(Originally published in the Sonoma County Gazette - link no longer available)
While many gardening articles in the early part of the year may be focusing on getting you ready to plant that yummy, summer vegetable garden, here I’m asking you to make a point to mark your calendar now to remind you when to plant your winter vegetable garden!
During late winter, many gardeners are understandably feeling anxious to plant their summer vegetable gardens. With visions of plump, red tomatoes, crispy lettuce, sweet corn and juicy cucumbers people can barely restrain themselves from rushing out and buying early starts that most likely will suffer in the cold soil and frosty weather that will continue in Sonoma County through mid April and in some microclimates until the first week of May!
By the end of summer, people tend to be extra busy with life and perhaps a little burnt out from harvesting many pounds of produce from their summer gardens. By marking your calendar now, you're prepared with one last burst of energy to plant before the cold days of winter are upon us again.
Imagine this: It’s the middle of January and you feel a cold coming on. You warm up some chicken soup and even though it’s dark outside you grab your flashlight and go out into the veggie garden to snip some fresh Italian parsley and Swiss chard. Once inside, you cut the chard into slivers and add to your soup during the last part of warming it up so the greens keep all their healthy nutrients. Just before serving your steaming bowl of tonic you add the parsley for that pop of flavor! You sit back satisfied and happy with yourself that this year you remembered to plant your winter food crops.
The winter garden is much less labor intensive than gardening at other times of the year and the best part is that Mother Nature does most of the watering for you. Keeping the weeds and the pests down will be the most important tasks. Even a small space or container can hold some Italian parsley and Swiss chard or other winter greens.
Some crops such as garlic, peas, and rhubarb are planted in late October through November for harvest in spring or summer. Perennial herbs such as, oregano, rosemary and thyme planted in spring or early summer will grow big enough for light harvesting in winter.
If you want to harvest carrots and beets in October or November plant them mid to late summer. For larger plants you can plant Swiss chard in spring but for super tender leaves on smaller plants you can plant your chard at the end of summer by Labor Day.
Labor Day (first Monday in September) is a good marker for remembering to get most of your winter veggies planted. The roots need the still warm soil of summer to invigorate growth. Remember to keep your plants watered until the rains are here in earnest and you will be rewarded with well established plants this winter!
Swiss Chard Harvested in Winter.