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The art of winter gardening.

PO Box 3080

Want to get more organic crops out of your garden? Here's how. Begin with plants that are naturally blessed with the ability to survive cold temperatures.

All of the brassica family -- cauliflower, kale, broccoli, turnips, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collards and bok choy -- are good candidates for overwintering. So are underground crops like carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, onions, parsnips, leeks and potatoes.

Many greens, including lettuce, spinach, arugula, endive and Swiss chard also prefer cool temperatures. If a crop is 90 percent grown by the first frost, it will go into cold storage, and you can harvest it as needed throughout the winter.

Achieving this takes some calculating. To figure out when to direct seed or transplant crops for winter harvest, start with a variety's maturity date and add 10 days to allow for the shorter growing days of fall. Then count back the number of days from the date of the first expected frost. The result is the date your seeds or plants should go into the garden. If you try this method, stagger your plantings over a three-week period and grow several different varieties.

For the first light frosts of fall, protect your plants with a single or double layer of lightweight row cover. Our system involves sections of PVC pipe sunk along the insides of our raised beds/box gardens. Those pipes hold longer pieces of narrow gauge PVC pipe bent into arches that support layers of polyethylene sheeting to protect the plants from winter. In summer, the arches are left in place to support shade cloth.

Row covers are helpful in northern areas, mostly to give fall-sown plants an early start the following spring. We have conducted tests to see just how well row covers would protect fall-sown lettuce and spinach.

As soon as we seeded, we covered the bed with a Reemay row cover secured along the edges with soil. When we took the cover off on May 27 the following year, the plants were large enough to harvest.

Alternatives to row covers? Try a living mulch. We plant spinach and oats together around September 15. After broadcasting the oats and raking them in, we overseed spinach in rows. By the time the spinach has four or five leaves, the oats are five to 10 inches tall. When the oats are winter killed, they cover the spinach.

As days become colder, the light-colored cooling mulch is replaced with dark-colored, heat-absorbing compost. We strongly believe that the key to overwintering success is to gradually modulate temperatures and conditions around the plants so they get used to the cold.

On really cold nights, we put old comforters over the plastic. This will protect our plants when temperatures fall. There is also the humidity factor. If conditions are clear, dry and windy, we cover everything when the temperature is expected to drop below 32 [degrees] F. If the humidity is high, we might leave plants uncovered for a night or two.

If this will be your first attempt at winter gardening, blanket more heavily than necessary to be safe. Just be sure to peel the covers back as soon as things start to warm up in the morning, or your plants will put out a lot of tender growth that will be susceptible to the next freeze.
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Article Details
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Author:Miller, Elizabeth; Miller, Crow
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Previous Article:Make bread from weeds.
Next Article:How to set up your greenhouse for maximum production.

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