It has been an absolutely glorious summer, weather-wise (except for the lack of rain), but if you want to enjoy a bounty of homegrown veggies into autumn and winter, it’s time to start planning and planting. Like most Maritime gardeners, I grew up with a veggie garden that was planted on the long weekend in May, harvested in July and August and then abandoned until the following spring. Today, we harvest from our garden 365 days a year and our winter cold frames and mini hoop tunnels shelter over 30 different cold season crops from November through March.
The key to a successful cold season harvest is to grow the right crops at the right time. For example, you wouldn’t try to grow heat-loving tomatoes in November! Instead, choose veggies like spinach, arugula, tatsoi and endive that can shrug off the cold temperatures.
Some of my favourite veggies for fall and winter are quick growing salad greens that are planted in late August through September, while others are slower maturing crops like carrots and kale that need to be planted now. When I place my seed orders in late winter, I try to think ahead and order extra seed for mid-summer plantings.
In July and August, soaring temperatures and dry soil can make seeding difficult. Starting seeds indoors under grow lights or sowing outdoors under a length of shadecloth floating on mini hoops are simple ways to get around the challenges of summer sowing. Keeping newly planted seedlings or seed beds moist is also important, so be prepared to water often until the new crops are established.
Niki’s Top Crops for Fall/Winter:
Carrots - Summer harvested carrots are delicious, but they really don’t compare to the super sweet roots pulled from autumn through late winter. Plant seed in late July to early August in garden beds or cold frames. Once the temperature plunges in late November, cover beds with a thick layer of shredded leaves or straw to insulate the roots and allow easy winter harvesting.
Arugula - My top salad crop, we just can’t get enough of the peppery leaves of arugula. Sow seed directly in the garden or cold frames in late August through mid-September for a non-stop crop of gourmet greens. The plants are very cold tolerant and garden beds can be protected with a mini hoop tunnel in late autumn.
Kale- So many types of kale, so little time! My favourite kale is dinosaur kale (also known as Tuscan or black kale) which has long, blue-green strappy leaves, but we also love Red Russian, Winterbor and Redbor. This year I’m also trying a new type called Portuguese kale that has very wide, paddle-shaped leaves. Kale is extremely cold tolerant and grows with minimal protection although I usually erect a mini hoop tunnel over the kale beds in late November.
Mache (corn salad)- Forming small rosettes of tiny leaves, mache is harvested as a whole plant by cutting with a sharp knife at the soil surface. We like to toss the plants with a bit of olive oil, lemon juice and salt for a simple, but delicious salad. You can also use them as a bed for fish or chicken. Mache is among the hardiest winter vegetables and is best suited to a cold frame. Sow seed in late August.
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show that airs every Sunday from 11 to 1 pm on News 95.7 FM. For more info, please visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.