It's time to plant your winter garden

October 17, 2008 4:48:12 PM PDT
Looking for ways to save money on your grocery bill? How about growing your own produce? Now is the perfect time to plant your winter or "cool season" vegetables. The Dirt Diva, Annie Spiegelman, lends us her helpful green thumb.

Four tips for growing winter vegetables:

1.Plant now! Winter vegetables get their best start before the really cold weather. Cold weather can stop or slow their growth so get planting this weekend!

2.Don't leave them out in the cold and just forget about them! Especially at night. If frost is in the forecast, stake up an old sheet over them overnight. Remove in the morning. You can also by a nylon fabric at nurseries called Harvest Guard to hold in the warmth. Or try a spray called "Cloud Cover" available at Sloat.

3.Monoculture is so yesterday! Diversity is here to stay! Mixing edible plants with ornamental ones helps keep pests in check and confused. Mix and match.

4.Never use pesticides on edible crops.

Cool season vegetables to plant organically in October:

  • Leafy greens: lettuce, arugula, mustard, kale, spinach, Swiss chard
  • Root crops: carrots, beets, radishes (can be planted by seed)
  • Cole Family crops: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi

    Note:If you are new to winter growing, start with leafy greens or root crops. Cole family crops are a bit more challenging and you will have to be way too patient!

    Step One: Find a sunny area (4-6 hours of sun) and mix in a good amount of compost. You can purchase compost in bags at the nursery. I like to drive my pick-up truck to Sonoma Compost in Petaluma and fill it up with ½ a cubic yard of fresh, organic compost. Only costs 9 bucks! (A ½ cubic yard will be enough compost to mix into 2 10 by 12 foot raised beds.) For a compost in bulk site, in San Francisco, contact www.gardenfortheenvironment.org The city collects home food scraps and makes a compost blend instead of sending all that organic matter to the overcrowded landfills. Amen!

    Step Two: If your soil hasn't been amended with compost every year, start now, but also buy a box of EB Stone's "Sure Start" and sprinkle some in. (Read amount on box.) "Foxfarm" also makes a good starter fertilizer. These are two local, organic companies I like to support.

    Step Three: Plant seeds and seedlings and cover with a mulch. I like straw as a mulch but a mix of leaves and wood chips are fine as well.

    Step Four: Water. A drip system works best. A soaker hose is next and hand watering last. Never a sprinkler! That's inviting disease to the leaves. Someday soon we will have some rain, supposedly. Turn off any water timers then and sit back.

    Step Five: In a month or two, start eating the greens. Cut off leaves of lettuce with scissors and new leaves will grow. This is a time where you can also spray plants with a fish emulsion and kelp fertilizer but not necessary if plants are thriving on their own.

    Step Six: If frost is expected at night, stake up an old sheet over the vegetables and remove it in the morning. Or, purchase "Cloud Cover" from your local nursery. It's a spray that protects your crops and is safe on edibles.

    Step Seven: Watch for pests! Snails and slugs love greens. The product "Sluggo" is safe for kids and animals. Or, step on snails and squish them into the soil. (Sorry! I know it's mean ) but it's free fertilizer for you and food for the wildlife hanging in your yard.

    Enjoy your homegrown, safe, delicious organic food!

    For more information you can email Annie on her website: www.dirtdiva.com.


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