Tag Archives | Cover crops

3 of the Best Winter Crops – Onions, Garlic, and Cabbage

cabbage

Cabbage is a great winter vegetable.

This article will give you an overview for 3 of the best winter crops – onions, garlic, and cabbage.

In the past I always assumed that my garden would just lay dormant in the winter. After all, what produce really grows in the winter? But, I was wrong.

There are actually quite a few varieties of plants that can be planted in the fall to be harvested in the winter or early the next season. Before planting in the fall, be sure to amend the soil to make sure that you have plenty of nutrients for the winter crops to thrive on (for a soil amendment recipe, see tip 3 of this article: 3 Tips on How to Prep for the New Growing Season). One other thing is that these plants grow best in areas that have a mild winter – meaning that there are nights that might get below freezing but not severe freezing for weeks and weeks at a time.

So, what are 3 of the best crops to grow over the winter? Here they are:

1. Onions

Onions are a perfect winter crop because they take very little effort to plant and maintain. Simply plant the onion in the amended soil so that the bulb is covered (about 1-2 inches deep). You can plant onions even as late as October or early November depending on the weather. Once you have planted the onions, cover the soil with mulch. This will help to keep the soil moist and slightly warmer. Water the plants a couple times per week if the soil is dry in your area and until the first freeze. Then, just leave the onions for the entire winter. In the spring, you can harvest the green part of the onion to use in soups and other dishes. Once the tops turn brown, your onions are ready for harvest.

2. Garlic

Garlic is also an easy plant to grow in the winter. You can even just buy a large garlic from the store and break each of the little cloves a part (called “cracking”). The larger each of the individual cloves, the bigger the garlic will be when harvested. Each clove will  become a whole garlic for the harvest the next summer. When planting, it is important to plant the bottom of the clove down and the top facing up. You can plant garlic in October or November depending on the weather in your area (you will need to plant garlic 3 weeks before the first hard freeze). Plant at a depth of about 2 inches below the surface and then cover with mulch.

3. Cabbage

Cabbage is a plant that will grow and be ready for harvest in the winter. In order to do this, you will need to plant the cabbage from seed in late Spring, or you can buy starts in the late summer or early fall from your local nursery. Make sure your soil has lots of nutrients. The Savoy Cabbage is among the hardiest of the cabbages and is a perfect one to grow in the winter. When the cabbage looks big enough and the head feels firm, you can harvest it in the middle or late winter.

There you have it. There are lots of other plants that can grow in the winter. If you don’t want to grow produce in the winter, then try growing a cover crop. Cover crops help put nutrients back into the soil for the next growing season and they help with weed control. Check out this article to find out more about cover crops: Cover Crops.

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Gardening with Recycled Materials

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We’ll keep it short on words and long on pictures in this post as we review different ways of gardening using recycled materials.  My wife and I prepped and planted our spring garden earlier this year.  Here are some quick how-tos and tips for your 2014 garden.

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There they are – a winter’s growth of cover crops.  These guys are all ready to be folded back into last year’s soil which fed a bounty of tomatoes.  Now it’s time to feed the soil.

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There are a few articles out there on incorporating your cover crops into your soil beds.  One says to get a pair of garden shears and do a bit of a mowing, trimming them all before anything else.  We simply got a pitch fork and began turning the cover crops into the soil.  It looks like hard work but it was actually pretty easy.  The cover crops kept the soil moist and well aerated making short work of this task.  The other thing we noticed was the soil, which was a light brown when we planted last year, was rich and dark black with worms and other small critters thriving below the surface.  The beds were very much alive and healthy.

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When done, our beds looked like this.  Note that some of the greens are still at the surface.  We didn’t mind too much because we planned on amending the soil with a few bags of organic soil.  It is important, however, to make sure to cover up any of the greens.  Remember, these guys are still alive with roots in the ground.   You don’t want them to reestablished themselves amidst your new garden.

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We added “Edna’s Best” potting soil to our gardens since it had a nice mix of soil, mycorrhizal fungi, earthworm castings, kelp meal, bat guano, feather meal and a natural wetting agent.  It’s easy, just toss the bag on the garden bed, split it open with a shovel and then remove the bag.  All the soil dumps right where you want it.  We decided to spread it evenly across the top instead of folding it into the beds.  Since it rains fairly often in Portland, Oregon, the soil and nutrients will melt into the rest of the beds.  Again, this also keeps light away from any leftover cover crops to make sure they decompose into the soil.

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The finished project:  Soil is now spread evenly and ready for planting.

yard junk

In 2013, we had an old wire and metal pipe greenhouse that was showing its age.  We took it down and were planning on taking it to the dump.  However, part of our spring garden was peas that love to climb.  My wife, Rhonda (the brains of the operation), figured out a way to keep this out of the landfill while putting it back to work.

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She took the wire shelves and some old tomato hoops from the green house and created an attractive and stable structure for our peas to wrap themselves around.  The structures made it very easy to harvest the peas once they were ready.

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There are a lot of books and magazines on gardening in the Pacific Northwest, but save your money – if you plant to start from seed, all of the instructions including when and how to plant for your specific region, are on the back of the packet.  This would have saved me some money because I bough about a dozen heirloom tomato seeds anxious to get them going earlier this year but found it was too late.  Oh, well.  I’ll save them for next year and start them in egg shell starters.

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Using the poles from our old green house, we divided our beds up into sections for spinach, beets, onions, kale, and carrots.  A common mistake is to plant your crops and then forget to mark them.  They all look alike as seedlings and you won’t know what’s what until they are mostly grown.  For our spring garden, we simply followed the directions on spacing and number of seeds to plant.  We then looked around the yard for more material that would end up in the landfill.  We found some old boards from a planter box, broke them up, and then wrote on them with a green wax pencil to identify our different crops.

Now that the seeds are in the garden, make sure to water them well to wake them up.  Follow watering instructions for your plants, making sure not over-water, which will drown those new roots reaching down into the soil.

You can also be very strategic about planting certain types of plants in close proximity to one another.  Tomatoes and basil do well together.  Marigolds planted in your bed near your crops will function as a natural pest repellent and helps gauge the health of your garden.  There are many other tips and tricks to planting crops which we’ll cover in the coming weeks.

We’re so passionate about using recycled materials that we started a Kickstarter Campaign, where we are raising funds to bring our very first product, TogetherFarm Blocks™.  Made from food safe recycled plastics, it’s an easy way to quickly build a garden bed in a matter of minutes.  If you have a small space you can use these to quickly build a custom garden box without tools or carpentry experience.  Check them out!

TogetherFarm Blocks - the best way to build a garden box

TogetherFarm Blocks – Modular Garden Box System

 

 

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Cover Crops: Part 2

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Previously, our garden beds looked like this.  Pretty barren when I sowed seeds back in November.  Now with spring here, we’re ready to start prepping our soil and getting it ready to plant.  After a nice long winter, our beds look like this:

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Things we’ll add to the soil will include chicken manure, additional Black Gold soil and a few other things to make sure our gardens have a running start this year.

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From the looks of this, a squirrel may have started the process of turning over the greens to provide nutrients for our desired crops.

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The last thing we need to do is decide what to do with this space.  A few ideas include growing a hop garden or potentially adding more beds to our yard.  This part gets all of our southern sun.  Maybe we’ll try peppers this year.

How is your garden shaping up for Spring 2013?  Leave us some comments below!

 

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Cover crops in 15 minutes

Cover Crops and Garden Helper

Are there any treats in that bag?

Doug recently posted an article about cover crops.  Well, count me as inspired!

On an ever-so-rare sunny, Portland Saturday afternoon I stopped by our local gardening store, Thicket, located on NE 23rd and Alberta Street.  I visited with the owner, Adria (interview with Adria coming soon) to find out what sort of cover crops I should plant for the winter.  She recommended a blend of rye, alfalfa and clover.  I purchased about two cups of seeds and headed back to my yard to get to work.

Garden Beds before cover crops

Garden Beds: before cover crops

I was lucky.  If any of you remember the article on the Tree of Heaven I wrote a couple of months back, you’ll note that our garden had become a bit unruly with tomatoes and other unattended overgrowth.  My wife, Rhonda, lovingly cleaned the garden to give me a head start on this project while I was at work (thanks, Rhonda!).

Pitchfork in tilled soil

Pitchfork in tilled soil

My much easier task was then to break the soil that had hardened with rain, sew the seed and turn the soil once more to keep birds and rodents from devouring the soon to be cover crops.  You only need to turn the surface of the soil, so the work for two 6′ by 4′ garden beds is short work using a pitchfork.  I was surprised at how dry the soil was just a couple of inches down after a week of heavy rain.  It’s a good sign that the soil is active and keeping itself relatively warm with what compost was left after the overhaul.

Seeds on Soil

Cover crops sewn across the soil.

Next I simply sowed my seeds evenly across the garden bed making sure that you cover as much of the surface area as possible.  As Doug’s article noted, we’re going for two things here:  weed suppression and nutrient replenishment.  In the spring, just before we’re ready to start planting, we’ll simply fold the crop into the soil for a natural fertilizer.

Garden beds ready for winter

Garden beds ready for winter.

When you’ve finished sowing the seeds, all that’s left to do is turn the soil once more, again about an inch depth.  By doing so, you’re making sure that some crops will survive the cold and the onslaught of birds and small rodents looking for an easy meal. While I had my pitchfork in hand, I redistributed some of the soil that had moved around during the harvest season so my beds were more evenly distributed.

That’s it.  The whole process took at most 15 minutes and now my beds are tucked in and ready for winter.

Have you had success with cover crops before?  If so, let us know in the comments section.

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