Category Archives: Winter Gardening

Winter Gardening Challenge – Plant Carrots

Succession Sowing Carrots

Succession Carrots

How simple is that?

Plant Carrots.

You know you eat carrots all winter.

Did you know that they are simple to grow and can be stored in the garden until you are ready to harvest them? {Caveat: you may want to cover them with straw once the deep freezes start.}

Right now is the perfect time to prepare and plant out your carrot bed. Check with your extension office to find varieties that overwinter well in your climate. In the Pacific Northwest, Territorial Seed has a great winter catalog.

Grow them in a spot fairly void of nutrients. If you just pulled peas or lettuce out and have some space that would work. Check out this older post which explains how I prepare my beds for growing nice long carrots. I just started mine last week and they are covered with floating row cover to ward off the carrot rust flies and help keep the soil and seedlings from drying out when the sun decides to grace us with it’s presence.

Before heading out to start carrots, you may want to check my standard winter and spring seed starting schedule. Maybe you’ll be inspired and start some other things while you are out there!

A Change in the Weather

This last week things have really shifted from late summer sun to fall drizzle. The days are noticeably shorter and the animals and wasps are feeding voraciously. The bobcat is teaching her young how to hunt and the coyotes are taking down deer around here. I’ve been busy preparing too, sensing the final lap in the food preservation marathon.

Despite kitten-induced bursitis (read, cannot bend knee for several months) I managed to get in all the winter/spring starts from Cascadian Edibles (they are the rocking start CSA that I mention in the book, totally coming to save the day for me this year). Then I realized just how full of slugs my garden was so I moved the ducks out from the poultry area. They have been fairly well-behaved around the starts, focusing instead on slugs.

Awesomest husband finished building the rabbit shelter and I finished building larger cages so they would actually be able to hop around.

Just in time too, because Nibbles had her kits last Thursday just about dark.

This bunny is four days old and just starting to get fur. There are six babies in total. Many people have a hard time understanding how we can celebrate the birth of these small creatures which will one day grace our table. It’s easy to imagine a chicken farmer enjoying his baby chicks, knowing that some day they will be dinner. And if you don’t want to buy factory farmed food, need to keep your food costs down, and want to control the diet, lives and deaths of the animals you are responsible for – rabbits just make sense. Until post World War II rabbits kept many families in protein, but then we became this affluent society too good for our roots. In the forties north of Seattle, my father had the childhood job of working in a meat house processing rabbits. And already in the partial span of one generation they are no longer main stream cuisine. Unless you are a foodie and can afford it from a butcher’s shop that is.

Raising chickens takes longer, costs more, and requires more space to keep them healthy. Here’s some rabbit math for you: a rabbit can breed when it’s six months old. That rabbit can have four litters a year, with six to eight rabbits per litter. It takes 8 weeks to raise a batch to “market” weight, or “table” weight in my case. Baby rabbits nurse for six of those eight weeks so their food requirements are minimal. Rabbits gain weight well year round, unlike chickens that work great when the weather is warm but don’t gain rapidly in our cool winters and springs. And also, rabbits don’t need heat lamps.

One other great thing about rabbits: compost. I’ve designed this rabbit shelter so that it’s elevated enough to have compost piles underneath. I’m still working on those but they will have raised sides so I can pile it up and have some kind of chicken wire cover so the chickens can get at the scraps and some of the worms but not totally destroy my entire worm population. My goal this winter is generating as much compost as I possibly can to regenerate the depleted garden and orchard soils here. Between the goats, rabbits, chickens and ducks I think I just may be able to finally make enough compost. Rabbit’s eat primarily alfalfa so their droppings are nutrient dense amendment without a ton of weed seeds.

The fall weather has me in the kitchen, baking up tons of bread. This is one rare time you’ll find white flour in my kitchen but sometimes you just need some holes in your baguette and whole grains don’t give you that like white flour does.

I’ve been finishing off the last of the tomatoes from the big buy a few weeks back. I’ve fermented salsa, canned salsa and sauced roasted tomatoes until the goats came home. I’m making some cheesy tomato tarts with Beecher’s for the freezer. It’s nice to have something to pull out of the oven and not have to think about dinner on occasion – and especially nice while flipping through seed catalogs in January deciding which varieties of tomatoes to plant.

How about you – what have you been up to this week? Are you putting the garden to bed or planting out your winter starts?

Guest Post – Tips for Better Winter Edibles

By Bill Thorness

Author, Edible Heirlooms: Heritage Vegetables for the Maritime Garden

I love to put my own vegetables on the table at holiday meals. Winter squash is an easy thing for Thanksgiving, but how about a salad that includes hardy, wild greens? Or maybe a spinach frittata for Christmas morning, potato leek soup for New Year’s Eve, or Brussels sprouts for Valentine’s Day?

That last one might not go over great in all households, but my wife and I love sprouts simply roasted with garlic, onions, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and it might be just the treat to keep us away from the predictable restaurant dinner surrounded by other hand-holding couples.

I’ve been growing winter vegetables, with varying success, for a number of years, and I want to share some tips from what I’ve learned.

First, jump into your time machine and go back to late August or September to plant your winter veggies. That’s when you need to get most of them started so they’ll settle in and establish enough growth to withstand the winter.

Sorry to be the bearer of that bad news. But plan for next year! If you’re still dying to plant something now, put in your garlic! But do it soon, and cover it with a light mulch like 1-2 inches of leaves. Pull the leaves away when our long spring begins in late February and the garlic shoots are an inch or two tall.

If you’ve already planted a winter garden, here are suggestions for getting the most out of it.

Mulch your plants. Just like the garlic, your growing veggies can be aided by a layer of mulch around them. Four to six inches of leaves around your root crops (carrots, beets, Jerusalem artichoke) will protect them from hard frosts (our official first frost date in Seattle is Nov. 11 this year). The mulch will also keep the ground softer, so it will be easier to dig out the roots.

A mulch of leaf mold or compost is also good for other crops, like brassicas (cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts) and salad greens (lettuce, spinach, corn salad, bok choy, mustards). It will provide some nutrients, protect their roots from frost and cushion the soil from compaction by winter rains.

Another benefit of winter mulch is that it will keep the weeds down, making gardening easier next spring.

Use a cloche. The word cloche is French for bell, which is literally what the Paris market gardeners used over their vegetables in the winter. Their version was a glass bell about a foot tall and often flared at the base. You can find that type of cloche, often made of clear plastic, in garden stores.

But that type is only good for one plant, which requires much more fussing.

The most common cloche used by maritime Northwest gardeners is a plastic-covered hoop house. Often the hoops are made of bent PVC plastic, but I’ve begun using galvanized, heavy-gauge steel wire, which looks better and helps me minimize my use of that environmentally unfriendly plastic. I still have to cover it with clear plastic (at least 6 mil thick). I’ve found some plastic sheeting that has a row of vents cut into it, which helps control warmth under the cloche. The system I’m using (wire hoops and vented plastic) is sold by Lee Valley Tools.

Use a cloche over any of your winter veggies to protect them from harsh weather and better control the growing conditions.

The cloche will keep your veggies warmer and keep the damaging winter rains (or even snows) off of them. It also protects against the wind, which can dry out the soil and be tough on the plants.

The key to success with a cloche is to keep an eye on it. Open it from time to time to water the plants and vent it on sunny days by opening the ends to keep it from getting too warm (unless you have vented plastic like mine).

Fertilize and weed. Besides mulching and cloching my winter vegetables, I also provide some fertilizer periodically, and I religiously weed the beds.

I’m often planting my winter veggies in a bed that had summer crops, so the nutrients need to be replenished. Also, soil microbes – the critters that are chewing organic matter and pooping in your soil -  are much less active in cooler winter soil, so there is less natural fertilizer being provided around the plant roots.

For that same reason, if you keep the weeds down, all available soil nutrients will go to the vegetables.

Our regular, sometimes heavy winter rains can “leach” or drain nutrients out of the soil around the shallow roots of winter veggies, which is why a periodic addition of fertilizer will help them. I fertilize with my own worm bin compost or Walt’s Organic Rainy Pacific Blend about once a month in the winter. You don’t need to do it more often, because the plants are not growing fast.

 In my book Edible Heirlooms, which covers more than 100 varieties of 26 popular home garden vegetables, I provide a chapter on year-round gardening, which goes into detail on cloches, cold frames and other season-extension garden tools and techniques. Also, I’m giving a seminar on Year-Round Edibles at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in February, so come and get more tips!

Hope these ideas help you have a great winter garden!

Last week I planted garlic – one clove at a time, pointed end up, two inches deep, spaced 4 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart. Then I covered the bed with leaves, which will cover it until late February.


Lettuce (left) and brassicas (right) – with a few wild greens that volunteered between the rows – will grow fine all winter under my cloche of wire hoops and vented plastic.


Winter veggies can be beautiful as well as delectable, like this January King cabbage I grew two years ago. We had a week of snow, and it kept getting more and more red!

A Day in the Slow Life

My husband had suggested I do this last winter and I balked – I didn’t want to scare anyone away! But Laura at www.ModernVictoryGarden.com tagged me in a meme that asks participants to share a day in their slow lives and as I read the other participant’s posts I was so captivated and inspired that I decided to come clean. It’s not pretty and I hope it motivates you rather than overwhelms you. I have an extreme type A personality and to me it’s about more than just my particular family. It’s about activism and making things easier for others to follow this path so there are many more elements to my day than I would ever expect anyone else to have.

The day I made mental notes of was Saturday, although true to form I’m just now getting around to posting it on Monday. Normally I would not have spent as much time in the garden but I’ve been so behind this fall with our whirlwhind book schedule that I’ve completely neglected it. Now how can I write about ditching the grocery store if I’m too busy writing to actually ditch the grocery store? I can’t so I’m trying to get things back in shape for winter.

6:30 The kids stir but I roll over and try to go back to bed until 7 since I was up late the night before – just how late I will not divulge lest you be concerned for me. I’m a light sleeper though so falling back asleep never really works despite how hard I try.

7:00 Awaken and make power pancake balls by grinding Lentz spelt which I had picked up from the farmer at the Whole Foods parking lot last time he was in Seattle on deliveries and using home clabbered buttermilk and backyard eggs.

Snuggle in and build legos, making up for not being there at bedtime Friday night since I had been at my publisher’s 50th anniversary party meeting other fun folks and uber cool bloggers and writers like Langdon Cook and Bill Thorness who I’m hoping for a guest post from in the near future. Only I need to email him first…Bill, if you’re reading, will you do a guest post please?

9:00 Most Awesome Husband is up and makes scrambled backyard eggs and bacon that I cured and we smoked a few weeks back.

More lego building.

9:30 Start emailing everyone who had signed up for the produce buy, trying to be sure all the nearly 1 ton of produce that I had unloaded at the warehouse on Friday would be picked up at the barter and harvest party on Sunday. Attempt to find carpools for people’s produce if they wouldn’t be able to make it, more emails and follow ups.

10:00 Clean out the chicken coop, chicken water, and take out the recycling. We do still have recycling since we have two home based businesses at home and we seem to be collecting a lot of lego boxes lately…

11:00 Fall worm bin management. I opened the worm bin I’ve neglected all summer, shocked to find just a few scraps of recognizable greens and tomato skins on the top. It’s conveniently located just outside the front door so it gets quite a lot of plate scrapings and yet the worms had multipled so much they were about out of space! Rather than feed the surplus worms to the chickens I decided to get a larger worm bin. My original bin was sized to fit under the garbage disposal below the sink (thereby eliminating the need for the garbage disposal.)

I’ll keep that worm bin but also move a larger red wiggler bin into the garage for winter. This will allow me to start out with a fresh system with complete absence of fruit flies. By keeping your worm bin outside in the summer you tend to end up with a wee bit of fruit fly problem that simply moves inside over the winter. Unfortunately you can’t wait until after frosts to kill off the fruit flies since that would also kill off your red wigglers.

11:30 Make a quick trip to Fred Meyer for 2 larger rubbermaid bins, drilled holes in the sides and bottom of one, lined it with scrap screening material to keep the castings and worms from falling through, and nestled it into the second one with spacers made from old plastic flower pots in between. This will allow any compost tea to drain into the bottom bin so that I can pour it out and use it in the garden and on seedlings this spring and keep the worms from drowning if it gets too damp this winter.  I tend to forget about things in the garage so I’m trying to make this fool proof.

12:00 Most awesome husband makes a lunch of home canned tomato soup and chipotle grilled cheese sandwiches from homemade bread and home smoked chipotles. We also had pickles and apples from our trees but the cheese is Beecher’s.

12:30 Resume work on the worm bin, extracting as much castings as possible while leaving the worms in place then transferring them to their new home.

1:00 Unbury the bottom layer of the compost pile behind the chicken coop. I’m the laziest composter you’ll ever meet. I don’t turn. Twice a year I rearrange the piles into size of particles and use what is ready. I ended up with a good half wheel barrel full of lovely leaf mulch and composted produce and grass trimmings which I mixed with the worm castings and compost from one of my in-ground garbage bins that had aged to completion (also with no turning.)  By next year I expect to have twice the amount of compost I do now.  My laziness has cost me a wheelbarrel full.

1:30 Finally remove the tomato vines and pick the last of the tomatoes, then amend the bed heavily with compost, cover the soil with the bean vine I had taken out of the front bed and plant winter brassicas there, mulching with timothy hay. Why grow cover crop to till in when I am already taking something out and it has all winter to decompose and willing workers to rake it in for me? When we are done with the broccoli and cauliflower this spring the chickens can come clean the stalks and turn under what is left of the hay and bean vines.

Prune the last of the raspberry vines that had fruited this fall back to the ground. This didn’t take long since I’ve been milking Mona while her family has been on vacation and each day I’ve been taking her raspberry canes in exchange for the milk I used to make gouda, cajeta and more bloomy rind.

Harvest the last of the drying beans: French white and scarlet runners that I neglected until they were too large to eat in the pods. Harvest the last of the sunflowers and gave the seeds to the chickens. The sunflowers have provided them with several months of good quality protein and they fit in your yard just about anywhere, attracting pollinators and passers-by.

Use a Japanese hand tool to cut back the already harvested black-eye peas, then cover that bed with hay as well. Another spot the girls can come clean up in early spring to be followed by a round of crimson clover and then planted with something tasty.

Harvest the last of the summer carrot bed and plant it with garlic, throwing the marigold plants onto the bed that had been corn. Start one last round of vetch there and in a month or so (hopefully) when it’s big enough the girls can work that all in for me along with a good layer of fall leaves. That bed will be spring/summer carrots in 2011.

Harvest the last of the dolgo crabapples and set them aside for another round of apple jelly to be used for pectin for early berry jam this spring and early summer before my other apples come on. I refuse to buy pectin when I have such a ready source in my yard already.

6 pm By this time the kids are done playing with their friends in front yards along our street and ready for dinner. Since today is my only window to get through as much fall garden work as possible, and I still cannot see the sink or counter for the dishes in the kitchen, I follow my fail safe dinner plan C which is Pagliachi’s. The kids are delighted, of course.

7:30 p.m. After dinner I bathe them and read one chapter of Harry Potter 6 to Pickle Man, then two chapters of the second Jack and Annie book to Pancake Boy, put him to bed and read another chapter of Harry Potter to Pickle Man. Start laundry so they have something to wear the following day.

9 p.m. Tuck in the last protesting little boy and turn my efforts back to the computer and making sure all the produce at the warehouse was slated for pickup the following day at the Barter Fair. Barter Fair? Oh my! My summer canned goods have long since overfilled the pantry shelves and are stacked in boxes all over the basement. In fact Friday night when the farmer had dropped off the last load at my house and stayed for dinner things were in such disarray that I was unable to find an entire case of pickled peppers meant for him!

11 p.m. Go through my email one last time for the night, answering blog comments and questions about the produce buy or for my online store.

11:45 p.m. Start soaking Lentz spelt and chana dal beans from Eastern Washington in acidified water for the potluck tomorrow. Curse myself that I didn’t think to start this a few days prior so they would both have been sprouted instead of merely soaked. I’ll be bringing a knock off of PCC’s perfect protein salad made with home clabbered creme fraiche, garden cucumbers, celery, carrots, kohlrabi, parsley, dill, basil and Rockridge Orchard apple cider vinegar.

12 p.m. Finally head downstairs and begin sorting through boxes, deciding what to bring with me the next day. Switch the laundry and investigate the source of the foul smell in the laundry room. Decide to leave that for another day and perhaps for Most Awesome Husband lest he begin to feel unneeded.

1 a.m. Most Awesome Husband returns with a family friend, flush from Husky victory so rather than do this post as I had planned I visit for awhile then call it a day.

And now rather than try and find where in the world the 215 pictures I downloaded last night are on this computer so that I can add more to this post tonight, I am going to call it a day once again and try and do that tomorrow. Not surprisingly I’m a tad tired since it’s about midnight yet again… I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my insanity.

And now I’m tagging Suzy of Chiot’s Run, Laurie of Commonsense Homesteading, and YOU! I’d love to read all of your “day in the slow life” posts in this Thursday’s Simple Lives. Please consider it – we all learn so much from each other and I wanted to pick you all anyway.

Preparing for Winter

Shallots and garlic curing on the fence for winter meals

It seems odd to be thinking of winter so soon after midsummer and just after summer has finally decided to arrive in Seattle.  Most folks don’t even have ripe tomatoes, zuchinis are just poking up and my fourth and finally not slug-eaten round of cucumbers are thinking about stretching out to 9 inches or so on the trellises.

The truth is, if you were planning on growing things for winter you should have had them in a month ago.  As always I’m a little late but closing the gap each year as I get more seasoned at winter gardening.

I started many things in trays just after midsummer and they were promptly munched on by slugs so I’ve since moved them indoors. I hate wasting the electricity for grow lights in the summer but this is an unusual year and I want some broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages to eat come late fall, winter and spring. The hard part for me is planting things that should go into the ground just when we are leaving for vacation and any new seedlings would certainly not get the loving attention they need in the strong summer sun. Those things will likely always be late for me: beets, carrots, spinach, lettuces, parsnips, salsify, kale, parsley, arugula, mustard and rapini. Hopefully they will be timely enough that they’ll be done growing before the days are too short for them to come into their own.

After a spring and summer of growing I would love to grow a green crop to replenish the soil but there never seems to be enough time in my small garden to replenish before the winter crops need to get in. I hate to leave brix up to fertilizer, however, so I’m amending my garden beds with compost in between. When these crops come out in early spring I’ll plant two rounds of green manure. This will be forage for the chickens, who will poop it out and turn it under while helping control soil born pests. Check out my chicken tractor that I use to keep them confined to only the part of the garden I want them to eat from.

This summer my garden has been home to so many diseases and pests I’ve lost track: cherry canker, mildew and apple scab, aphids, leaf miners, carrot weevils, symphylans, caterpillars, slugs and snails. I’m diligently rotating crops and keeping an eye on populations. Only time will tell if this is a house of cards or not.

In the meantime I’ve had to shift the winter carrots over from the carrot bed still housing late summer/fall carrots into the recently vacated beet bed. The beet bed is riddled with leaf miners but I’m hoping to escape the carrot weevils that are in the carrot bed.

I’m using some compost but not too much so as to encourage the symphylan population. How much is too much? Ask me in a few years. I’m making this up as I go.

I was recently asked how I had managed to get such nice long carrots as the ones I was photographed harvesting in early June in the recent Seattle Times article.

Carrots put down a central tap root very quickly and they continue as long as the soil is nice and airy. Once they strike clay, dried dirt, rocks or other obstacles they stop and begin to add girth. Anytime I plant carrots I spend about an hour first forking the dirt, adding some compost, then ultimately breaking up each clod with gloved hands to a depth of about 12 inches. This is not at all necessary to grow carrots, but it is in Seattle if you want nice long ones.

Once I have my carrots sewn I cover the beds with remay and keep the soil evenly moist. Once it gets dried out it hardens and forms clumps again. It can take up to two weeks for carrots to germinate and then another couple of months for them to mature. I plant them twice per year so I don’t mind this extra work. Carrots are the vegetable that most kids love to pick and eat themselves and I have a veggie averse child so I’m trying to ensure we have carrots on hand at that magical moment he decides he’s going to try them.

The other thing you need to do to ensure nice, large carrots is to thin them. If there isn’t sufficient space around each carrot they won’t continue to fill in. You can thin them by picking and eating the tiny carrots though, so I don’t mind that task.

Back on April 10th I posted a link to my seed starting schedule where you can find my list of winter crops. It’s very similar to what you’ll find on The Modern Victory Garden except she has a greenhouse and some of the varieties are different.

So how about you? Have you started your winter crops yet? And what all have you harvested for winter eating?