You can grow your own fresh vegetables year around — even in our climate. It can be done without a lot of hassle, expensive equipment or taking up much space.
With a little protection, such as cold frame or clear plastic hoop tunnel, cool-season crops do just dandy when positioned for maximum sunshine with southern exposure. With a bit more warmth and protection, plants pretty much just take care of themselves — just about forget watering, hardly an insect around, little maintenance. Wow, a slower pace than summer gardening!
Emilie Fogle of East Wenatchee has experienced great results growing spinach, lettuce, kale, mustards and broccoli.
She made a compact hoop frame by pounding 1-foot pieces of rebar in the ground, spaced every 1 1/2 feet on the sides. Lengths of 1/2 or 3/4 inch somewhat flexible plastic pipe forms an arch and is anchored by pushing each end over the rebar. Fogle’s hoop house is 5 feet long, 5 feet across and only 1.5 feet high. She covers it with a winter weight plastic row cover held secure with clips made for this purpose (clips were her largest expense for the entire project).
She also has a small cold frame … she says it was cheap and bends out of shape easily. She would invest in a stronger one if she were doing it again.
Sources for row covers, clips, cold frames and such include Territorial Seed Co., Grower’s Supply, Charlie’s Greenhouse and many others easily found on the Internet. Rebar and pipe are available locally from many sources.
Hurray to Fogle for keeping a detailed year-to-year journal, including planting and harvesting dates, soil and air temperatures, varieties planted and what was good or bad.
“I’ve always had great results with Bloomsdale spinach but any variety would do well. Same goes for kale and mustards,” she says. “I’ve planted Winter Red kale and Winter Density lettuce.”
“I like ‘Calabrese’ sprouting broccoli because it gives me numerous side shoots, which allows me to use a few at a time in salads,” says Fogle.
A freeze or two improves flavor of parsnips and carrots, as their starches change into sugar.
Now is the time to set about preparing for overwintering vegetables. Our average frost date is mid-October, so count back from the days needed for your particular crop to mature, including seed germination time. Some plants will do best transplanted rather than starting from seed.
Radishes are among the fastest to mature — 30 days plus a week or so for seed germination, while broccoli and many brassica crops will germinate in a week or two but then require two to three months to grow enough before cold slows them down. Sprouting broccoli takes more time, also tolerates more cold, and must overwinter before forming a head in late winter. After the center is cut, side shoots just keep providing more broccoli.
Peppery arugula, hardy corn salad, mesclun — all are easy, dependable greens for winter months. Even a lettuce variety named Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed! Might be worth a try just because of its name!
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in the At Home section. Mary Fran McClure is one of three columnists featured.