Winter Veggie Garden: What works well?

February 20th, 2011  |  Published in Contributors Blog, Jeff Robbins

by Jeff Robbins, Revolution Landscape

What works well in the California kitchen garden?  Well, first lets talk about what a kitchen garden is.  A kitchen garden is any garden that contains vegetables, fruits, and/or herbs and is usually located near the kitchen for easy access.  These days, kitchen gardens are becoming a lot more popular.  People want to eat healthier, want know where their food is coming from, and want the best tasting produce.  In most of California there are two growing seasons, hot and cold, each supporting different varieties of plants.  Right now, we are in the middle of our cold or winter season so I am going to discuss the winter kitchen garden.

reduce lawn 001 Winter Veggie Garden: What works well?
My favorite plants for a winter kitchen garden are lettuce, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower.  You can harvest from these plants continuously rather than all at once for the freshest produce and highest yields.  Some good herbs for the garden are fennel, parsley, thyme, oregano, culinary sage, and lavender.  You should experiment cooking with fresh herbs, rather than dried store-bought packages, to get better tasting food and savings on your grocery bills!  Borage and nasturtium are great for the garden because they have edible flowers that attract pollinators.  Borage flowers taste like cucumber and nasturtium flowers are kind of spicy.  Strawberries are a great bonus and can act well as borders!  lettuce 001 Winter Veggie Garden: What works well?

In regards to choice location for your garden, I would recommend replacing underutilized water-hungry lawn space near your front or back door.  To protect your winter vegetables from frost, the trick is to stay on top of the weather forecasts. Row covers sold at your local nursery make it easy to cover up your vegetable beds when the temperature threatens to dip.  Row covers not only keep the plants warm by trapping the ground’s heat close to the plants over night, they also keep out bugs while letting nourishing sunlight through.  To best coordinate your winter vegetables with the season, plant your winter kitchen garden now (Nov-Feb) because Spring is approaching quickly!

If you already have a kitchen garden, here are some New Year resolutions you should follow:

  • Fertilize less and avoid synthetic fertilizers all together.  Highly concentrated synthetic fertilizers leach from the soil and pollute our local water sources.  They also impede healthy soil microbes that protect plants from disease.  I recommend using organic fertilizers made of bone meal, seed meals and seaweed. These products provide plants with abundant nutrients without harming the earth.
  • Use mulch rather than herbicides to control weeds.  3-4 inches of wood chips, hay or compost dramatically increases water retention, reduces erosion and moderates soil temperature and pH.  Most importantly, weeds cannot penetrate 3-4 inches of organic material.  All the good soil and sunlight is left to plants you’ve intentionally planted.
  • Replace (even gradually) traditional overhead sprinklers with drip irrigation.  A drip irrigation system cuts garden water use by up to 60%.  Irrigation systems company Netafim now makes drip-lines from recycled materials. Using products like these benefits the environment even more.
  • Refine your perception of garden bugs. Many gardeners believe a successful garden must be free of all pests. This is not the case. A balance of good and bad bugs in the garden ensures the most productive plants. The bugs that benefit your plants need the plant-eating bugs for survival. The presence of a few ragged leaves shouldn’t set off alarm bells. If the plant eaters get a little too voracious for you, you can try cups of beer placed in the garden to combat snails and a spray made with Dr. Bronner’s soap for other pests. Again, stay away from synthetic pesticides that pollute the environment.

Overall, the best thing about living in California is that we can grow fresh produce at home year round.  In particular, the winter months are an especially pleasant time to be outside.  So get out and see if you can apply even a few of these concepts to benefit your garden, personal health, and environment at large.

bounty 001 Winter Veggie Garden: What works well?

Photos courtesy of Jeff Robbins

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