A special short newsletter on winter crops
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Timing is one of the garden skills that takes a lot of experience. Customers tell us that they like hearing when it is planting time for each gardening season. So--we saved the tips on winter crops until now, when planting time is coming around. Everything we mention in this newsletter can be planted from now for at least a month. In mild-winter areas, you can plant much longer.
Some of these crops grow food for you, like garlic and wheat, others grow fertilizer for your soil, and (best of all), both kinds of winter crops help keep weeds out of your garden!
Growing Staple Grains at Home
Seeing fields of grain, it's hard to think of it as a home-garden crop. Yet grains are easy to grow,high-yielding, produce lots of straw (which provides the important carbon layer for your compost pile) and some grow over the winter when the garden would otherwise be bare. Even with less than optimum yields, a 300-sq-ft garden bed can provide a 1-lb loaf of bread every week for a year. That's food security! Winter grains protect the soil from washing away, take up nitrogen which would otherwise be leached out of the soil by rain, and keep down weed growth.
Plant winter grains at least a month before hard frost. Plan on harvest in early summer. Grains have huge root systems which put lots of organic matter into the soil for the next crop you will plant. (You will have growing time left to follow your grains with amaranth, bush beans, potatoes, lettuce, chard, and all the cabbages, broccolis, brussels sprouts, etc. that will make fall and winter food next year.) Or, some people use grains such as rye just for their soil-building root systems and straw, cutting the plants in early spring before planting the summer garden.
Winter grains are: Barley (zones 7-10), Oats (zones 8-10), Rye (zones 6-10), Triticale (zones 6-10) and most hardy of all, Wheat (zones 4-10)
Grain Information Chart
To see seeds for all grain crops, click here.
To see our favorite book on growing grains, (155 pages) click here.
To see Ecology Action's booklet on growing grains (25 pages), click here.
Cover Crops and Compost Crops Made Easy
Cover crops don't often appear in home garden catalogs, though farmers have been using them for years. Who wouldn't want free fertilizer, fewer weeds, easier spring planting and better soil? The stumbling block for gardeners is trying to figure out what and when to plant. We have compiled a chart to help you figure out which crop might suit your conditions. And planting time is now through first frost.
Here's one gardener's experience with winter cover crops: "I got a plot at the community garden, and hurriedly broadcast vetch in the fall, then didn't think anything more about it. The next spring, I was called away to a family emergency, and didn't get back until June. Adjoining plots at the garden were covered with huge, well-established weeds. But my plot had a nice stand of vetch in full flower [pictured at the top of this page] and nothing else. It only took a couple of minutes to pull the vetch (it has a single, weak stem for each big plant). I dug a little and set my tomato starts in place. A week later, my tomatoes were well established and the vetch was a dry hay. I used it as a mulch under my tomatoes; it held low-growing fruit off the ground and kept the soil from drying out. I've never known gardening to be so easy--and it was all because I spent 20 minutes in the fall planting that vetch."
Click here for the downloadable compost /cover crop chart.
Click here for suggestions for cover crops for each region of the country.
Click here for our compost and cover crops.
Easier yet, we have a mix that we use successfully at our research garden. It is a combination of wheat, vetch, rye and bell beans, calculated to produce a maximum of nitrogen and organic matter while holding the soil and its precious nutrients safe from winter rain, snow, wind, and compaction. Not to mention weeds--this shades out most weeds if planted in a prepared bed. (In other words, you can't just throw it out in a place already full of weeds, but if the bed is clear, new ones won't take over.) And you don't have to guess how much to get--each 2-pkt set covers 100 square feet. Cut and compost the plants when the vetch in the mix starts to bloom, then use a fork, spade, or tiller to prepare the ground for your next crop. Allow a week after tilling before planting seeds in the bed. It will have more organic matter and nitrogen than it did before. (Mix shown in the picture above.)
Click here for Compost Crop Mix
Trees, Shrubs and Perennials from Seed--Now is Planting Time.
Fighting Fall Pests and Diseases
Fall is the season of harvest and abundance--and of mildew, aphids, and slugs. We have found there are organic solutions to those problems, though. Try these:
Sometimes the root of the problem is that the plants have run out of food and developed nutritional imbalance, weakening them and attracting pests.
A little nutritional boost can boost their resistance to disease and pests, as well as to cold. You don't want to give them fertilizer at this point in the year--lots of quick sappy growth will make the problem worse. Usually the most helpful thing is a blend of potash,( the nutrient that helps plants resist both disease and frost) with trace minerals and natural plant growth extracts. Seaweed just naturally contains all of these things, and is the perfect immune-system booster for plants. If you live near the ocean, you can mulch your plants with it. If you don't we recommend MaxiCrop seaweed extract for either foliar or soil feeding.
Click here for MaxiCrop
Mildew usually strikes as temperatures fall and humidity rises. So it can become a big problem in the fall, particularly on squash. Actinovate is an OMRI- approved mildew-fighter for organic gardeners. It is not a chemical, but a type of bacteria, (much like those that make yogurt) that inhibits the growth of mildew fungus.
Click here for Actinovate
Slugs and snails (and earwigs and pillbugs) love those long fall nights. By morning, they can reduce a plant to tatters. We were thrilled to find that Sluggo Plus is a snail and slug poison that is approved for use on organic farms and gardens. It is primarily mineral iron (slugs have copper-based blood and iron is poison to them) along with spinosad, a bacterial agent. A sprinkle amoung your fall lettuces, flowers, seedlings, and other crops can make a big difference.
Click here for Sluggo Plus
Aphids aren't usually a problem until either spring or fall. Then they can suddenly become a big problem on greens. We do not recommend using insecticides, even organic ones, on aphids, because they usually kill more of the predators that eat the aphids than they do the aphids themselves, leaving you worse off than ever. The first thing to try is a thorough blast with the hose. Sometimes a few days of that will allow the insect predators to catch up and bring things back into balance. However, if you have a bad outbreak, it can be helpful to wash the aphids off of the plants with Safer's Insecticidal Soap. You should just target the clusters of aphids, not the whole plant. Water the plant well first, and don't spray when the sun is hot. Once the soap has knocked the population back, you should be able to keep them under control with watering.
To see Safer's Soap, click here.
Frost Protection for your Vegetables