* A second bloom from the "holiday"
cactus in February
* Taking stock
* Planning the garden
Winter is a good time for taking stock before even planning. Our yields table is a road map for stocking next year's pantry. Above all, the garden must contain enough Hungarians and hot cherry peppers for pickled peppers for sandwiches and for salsa.
Planning the Garden
A garden map is essential to get maximum yields. Rotating crops every year is good for insect pest management, but difficult if space is limited. The best we can do, even in our approximately 3000 sq. ft. of vegetable growing space, is to rotate our anchor crops -- tomatoes, peppers, brassicas, and greens. Annual herbs stay in the same spot, because many of them reseed themselves, as do perennial herbs (thyme, oregano, and lemon balm). Lettuce sets can be popped in where a space opens up.
North Carolina Extension Service has a good map for succession planting that would provide enough vegetables for canning, freezing, and fresh use for two people for a year in southern zones (6-10). Northern gardeners might get away with a late crop of greens following some snow peas, but our options are more limited. See Garden Links.
Plant families generally like similar growing conditions. When planning garden space, group plant varieties that share common growing conditions together.
Solanaceae (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes) are warm-weather plants and, with the exception of eggplant, need a long growing season (avg. 70-100 days) and a minimum 10 hours a day of sunlight.
Cucurbitaceae (cukes, melon, squash, and pumpkin) also need warm weather and good sunlight, as well as a support system. Cukes and summer squash have a shorter growing season. Winter squash and melons, like Solanaceae, require a longer growing season. Keep this in mind when planning garden space.
Cruciferae family or brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage or Pak Choi types, cabbage, and greens) are cool weather crops. Cutworms are also a spring crop, and they compete fiercely for our broccoli and collard greens.
Timing the transplants is critical for this family. It should be late enough to catch the end of the larval stage (April through June, when they do the most damage), but early enough to catch the cool weather. After 7 years of gardening in Zone 4, we have decided to grow broccoli and Brussels sprouts only as a fall crop, meaning they will be seeded in July.
Beans and Corn. Grow yellow corn varieties; they are higher in vitamin A than those with white kernels.
Greens. For those who, like this cook, have turned to a diet of more vegetables and fish and less beef to address soaring cholesterol levels and concerns over the mass production of animals and poultry, greens are the obvious solution. Though spinach is the winner overall in nutrients, the thinning is too hard on our backs. Kale, collards, and Swiss chard are strong alternatives. Aside from their nutritious value, they are super simple to cook and can be easily frozen.
Red Russian kale is a strong anti-oxidant, and, it's ornamental as well. It is very hardy and does well as a container plant. It could be set out in early March, if it is in a sheltered location and given adequate protection till the frost-free date. We left one plant from a previous year in the garden, and it survived the winter and produced new growth the following year. A definite candidate for overwintering .
Leave some space open for succession plantings every two weeks until June. Begin again in late July for a cool weather crop. This will keep you in lettuce when the tomatoes are ripening and in greens when everything else is pooping out in the fall.
Oriental greens provide variety and nutrients to our greens menu. Most are sensitive to heat and do best in cool weather as a fall crop or spring in the more northern regions. An exception is Mizuna, used in mesclun. Excellent for stir fries or simply sauteed in herbal vinegar and served with fish. Most are not good for freezing, so plant only enough to eat. They are candidates for succession planting.
Root Crops. The heat of summer makes radishes turn very hot and pithy. European radishes are supposed to remain sweet and solid, not pithy. Tops are very tall, averaging 12 inches in length.
We're on growing beets. When we purchased our property, we found beets the size of baseballs in the garden, so we know they can grow in our beachy soil.
See Seeding Tips and Seeding Schedule to get an idea of what's involved in doing your own seeding. Over the years, we have developed our own list of favorite varieties. The seeding industry is no different than others, unfortunately, and are constantly trying to second-guess consumers or come up with a new and improved variety. Unable to find one company that offered my favorites, I developed a catalogue table in 2002 to whittle down my choices.
Seed Slow-growing Ornamentals Early
Every spring, this gardener regrets not seeding slow-growing annual ornamentals early in the New Year, so they will mature by May, when spring fever sets in and the retailers are tempting you with outrageous prices.
Our favorite varieties are Pretty Purple and Numex Twilight peppers, lobelia, verbena, black-eyed susan vine, petunia, and ageratum.
Since we don't have enough seeding space to start perennials alongside our vegetables, we save seeding them in July for fall transplanting. They prefer cooler temperatures anyway.
One New Hampshire gardening columnist talks about removing mulch and weeding now, but it's a little hard for this gardener to get in the spirit when there's still 2' of snow on the ground and temperatures hover around 30°! These activities are reserved for next month.