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In the Garden: Now’s the time to jumpstart cool season crops

Aug. 13, 2022 Updated Sun., Aug. 14, 2022 at 8:54 a.m.

There are many cold-tolerant kale varieties as well as other types of leafy greens that will grow well in the Inland Northwest during the fall and winter.  (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)
There are many cold-tolerant kale varieties as well as other types of leafy greens that will grow well in the Inland Northwest during the fall and winter. (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Susan Mulvihill For The Spokesman-Review

In the Inland Northwest, our cold, wet spring really got the garden season off to a slow start. Because of this, you probably don’t want to even think about the coming fall and winter but now is the time to make plans for growing veggies during those seasons. No, I haven’t forgotten which hardiness zone we’re in but this is actually doable.

In 2013, I conducted my first experiment at getting veggies to grow after our traditional growing season had finished. I planted onions, carrots, spinach and lettuce since they are all cool-season crops. I placed a sheet of clear plastic over the bed and crossed my fingers. The spinach grew pretty well but the other veggies barely survived. Even so, it inspired me to try again the following year.

In 2014, we built a small, unheated hoop house, which is a plastic-covered greenhouse. I had much better success with my offseason growing project and have been fine tuning my methods ever since. This fall will mark my ninth year of growing crops during the colder months.

You don’t need a hoop house or greenhouse to be successful at this. You can go with a simple, 24-inch low tunnel, which is comprised of short hoops and a sheet of clear plastic placed over them. For extra protection, consider getting a sheet of 6-millimeter greenhouse plastic.

Even though fall doesn’t officially begin until Sept. 22, this is the time to get some of your plants started. That’s because their survival rate increases if they’ve had a chance to become established before the really cold temperatures arrive.

My most important takeaway is to choose crops labeled as “cold tolerant.” If you look through seed catalogs, you’ll discover interesting types of greens that can handle the cold much better than regular cool-season crops. Here are some examples to consider:

Komatsuna Asian greens, Astro arugula or Sylvetta wild arugula are hardy options. The spinach varieties of Matador, Patton, Tundra and Regiment are all cold-tolerant. Last winter, I grew an endive called Batavian Full Heart that performed beautifully. There are plenty of winter-hardy kale to choose from, such as Darkibor, Meadowlark, Oldenbor, Prizm, Redbor, Red Russian, Scarlet, Siberian, Starbor, Westlander, White Russian and Winterbor. Two tasty but lesser-known greens are Vit mache (corn salad) and Claytonia (miner’s lettuce).

Start your seeds as soon as possible, preferably indoors unless the seed packet recommends direct-sowing them into the garden. Wait until early September to transplant your seedlings into your designated bed. You won’t need to cover them with plastic until frost becomes a regular occurrence, although kale, arugula and spinach will benefit from floating row cover to keep certain bugs away until freezing temperatures wipe them out.

Be aware that it can get quite hot under the plastic tunnel on bright, sunny days so remember to open the ends. Once you have to turn off your sprinkler system, you’ll need to hand-water your plants. I’ve found that when ice crystals form on the inside surface of the plastic, those water droplets will melt during the day and rain down on the plants. At that point, you won’t have to bring them water anymore but be sure to keep an eye on the soil moisture to be safe.

If you miss having fresh greens during the colder months, you will appreciate growing your own when most gardeners have hung up their gloves for the season.

Susan Mulvihill is author of “The Vegetable Garden Problem Solver Handbook” and “The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook.” She can be reached at Susan@SusansintheGarden.com. Watch this week’s video at youtube.com/susansinthegarden.

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