Taking Root #21

Winter Gardening Time is here. Hurray!

By Gini Bramlett

For the Calapooia Food Alliance

Garden catalogues have been making their way into our mailboxes by the wheelbarrow load the past few weeks. The colorful pictures and the creative descriptions of new and exciting varieties, as well as the old standbys get the old gardening juices flowing, and the desire to start digging in the dirt makes it difficult to wait until spring.

That being said, there’s no need to wait. It’s not too early to be planting cool weather veggies provided your soil is in good condition. With the milder Northwest climate and limited below-freezing temperatures, crops like beets, lettuce, Pak Choy, peas, and even spinach can be planted now.

Beets

Beets can be planted when your garden soil has warmed to 40 degrees. When seedlings are four inches tall thin to 4-6 inches apart by cutting off the tops at soil level. Never pull seedlings, as this could uproot plants nearby that you want to keep.

Some of the heirloom varieties mature in as little as 45 days making them easy to grow this time of year.

If you didn’t take the time to nourish your soil last fall, no worries. Beets have low nutrient requirements and unless your soil is seriously depleted, will do pretty well without added fertilizer.

Spinach

Cold weather is spinach’s best friend. Seeds will germinate in temperatures as low as 40 degrees, and seedlings can handle temperatures even lower to 15 degrees. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a good idea to use row covers as a precaution when freezing temperatures threaten. If you don’t have row cover, throw a piece of clear plastic over the bed. Just don’t forget to remove it in the morning.

Harvest outer leaves when spinach is small or wait until they get larger. Just remember, most spinach will bolt when temperatures warm. Try Razzle Dazzle, a variety that reaches harvest size in a month.

Loose Leaf Lettuce

Lettuce likes cool weather, too. Forty degrees is the magic number to plant leaf lettuce seeds. Plant in rows or broadcast and cover with light mulch until germination.

Thin when plants develop two or three true leaves.

For crispier lettuce, harvest during the coolest time of the day when leaves are about two inches long. Lettuce, which has very shallow roots, cannot tolerate dry spells, so light watering may be necessary during drier spells.

Pak Choy

This crop requires temperatures a bit warmer, so wait until night temperatures are about 50 degrees before you plant. Thin seedlings to 6 inches apart for dwarf varieties and 12 inches apart for taller varieties.

Thinned seedling can be tossed into salads. Plants need to stay watered or they will bolt when temperatures rise. Some varieties can be harvested in as little as 50 days.

Peas

Peas are so good and so easy to grow. They love cool temperatures, so this can be the perfect time to get them started. Whether you grow snap, shell or snow peas, they can be started outdoors at 40 degrees. If they suffer a touch of frost, they bounce back by producing more fruit.

Rains this time of year should provide adequate moisture, but the soil should not get waterlogged. Consequently, I like growing peas in raised beds. Pole varieties need to be trellised.

Don’t overlook using row covers on your winter/spring garden when frost or lower temperature threatens. They are inexpensive and easy to use. Row covers can be the difference between an abundant crop of fresh home grown vegetables and the disappointment of investing all the time, money and labor for nothing.

Calapooia Food Alliance

The next CFA Munch Night will take place at the Corner Café on Main St. in Brownsville on Friday, Jan. 23 from 6-9pm. Various types of chili and accompaniments will be served. A $10 donation is asked per person. 

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