by Julia Frisbie
posted August 5, 2021
Last week we identified the beginning and end of our local persephone season and did some basic calculations to figure out what we can still plant. If you haven’t run out of steam for careful garden work yet, you can now make detailed plans for a winter garden. If you’re like me, and overwhelmed at this point by canning projects and zucchini giveaways, you can rip open all your winter veggie seed packets, mix the seed together, broadcast it, water it, and hope for the best. Even the untidiest garden, bejeweled at dawn with dewdrops, is a splendor:
Here’s a mix of swiss chard, carrots, herbs, and several types of kale that I threw at the ground one year in July. We ate it until we were sick of it in late winter, and then turned the chickens into the patch.
Speaking of root vegetables: Roseann Wuebbels grows Jerusalem artichokes here on Fidalgo Island, and recommends them as a healthy starch that can be overwintered and harvested by simply digging tubers up throughout the cold months. She jokes that they’re her “apocalypse food.” I grow them, too, and agree that they’re a good one to bet on in an apocalypse, because they seem unkillable! Indigenous communities are said to have cultivated Jerusalem artichokes as a type of insurance– an alternative starch in case of maize harvest failures– but I can’t find a reputable (i.e. indigenous) source on this.
Whether you’re planting in rows or scattering seed with the wind, it’s helpful to know what the experts do. I am not an expert yet, so I will refer you to some excellent books that cover winter gardening.
Eating Locally and Seasonally: a community food book for Lopez Island (and all those who want to eat well) by Elizabeth Simpson and Henning Sehmsdorf of Transition Lopez
Folks, it doesn’t get more local than this! The overwintering crops that Simpson and Sehmsdorf recommend planting in the summertime are carrots, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, beets, kale, chard, salad greens, and hardy herbs.
After I checked this book out of our local library three times in a year, I decided I needed my own copy to carry around, break the spine at my favorite page, dog ear, and notate to my heart’s content. Gilkeson recommends planting root crops in July along with endive, radicchio, swiss chard, and kohlrabi. In early August, her dizzying to-do list includes: “Sow last of summer lettuce, radishes, summer cauliflower. Sow winter crops: arugula, fall and winter lettuce, leaf turnip/mizuna, collards, kale, daikon and winter radish, leaf mustards, Komatsuna/mustard spinach, Chinese cabbage and other hardy greens, spinach, sweet onions and scallions, and broccoli raab.” In late August and September, she plants corn salad, cilantro, arugula, and winter lettuce, and in October she plants garlic and broad beans.
Based in Kelowana BC, Curtis Stone’s climate is harsher than ours, but I still appreciate his practical approach. He sells his crops to restaurants, so he never recommends stuff that people won’t readily eat: his overwintered crops are spinach, kale, lettuce, and carrots.
Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman
This book is basically the bible of year-round gardening. It’s the standard by which all other books are measured. There’s no way I can summarize all of the good stuff in here, so I’ll just say: if you’re serious about this, check it out from the library.
The Market Gardener: a successful grower’s handbook for small-scale organic farming by Jean-Martin Fortier
This farmer is based in Saint-Armand, Quebec, which has much harsher winters than ours but is actually at a lower latitude, so has a slightly shorter persephone season. He’s not shy about using floating row covers, frost blankets, and hoop houses to extend his season. He’s a master at planting things in succession over long periods so he has a constant supply for his CSA customers. The crop rotation plan in the appendix of his book shows that he finishes planting cilantro, dill, lettuce, carrots, beets, snow/snap peas, and beans in August. He finishes transplanting lettuce in September. He finishes direct sowing mesclun mix, arugula, spinach, radishes, turnips, and mustard greens in October, and plants his entire crop of garlic that month. He finishes transplanting seedlings of chinese cabbage, fennel, chicory, kale, parsley, collard greens, swiss chard seedlings until October, too. That’s a lot of activity for October. In our climate, without season extension tools, I’d try to fit everything except the garlic from his October planting list into September.
Fortier also plants an oat/pea mix as green manure in late August and early September. Green manures and living mulches deserve their own post. That’s what I’ll write about next, because it’s time to order seeds if you want to plant them by the end of this month. If you’ve got ideas to share about green manures or living mulches that have worked for you, please leave a comment, and I’ll include it in next week’s article!