Trying our hands at a winter garden

Somewhere in one of his redonculous quantity of books on gardening, the DreadBrewer read that beds should never lie fallow, even in the winter. And so we are trying our hands at a winter garden, complete with cover crops.

After much research, DB determined that we should be growing clover, fava beans, peas, and oats. This would be in addition, of course, to the fall plantings of beets, broccolini, carrots, kale, kohlrabi, parsnips, and spinach. Not to mention the garlic and shallots and anything else DB could get his hands on and try to plant.

The idea with cover crops is that you let them grow through the winter and then till them into the soil in spring, where they will break down and enrich the soil as a “green mulch.” And with cover crops such as fava beans and peas, if you can harvest some to eat before tilling them in, so much the better.

Alas, our cover crops aren’t quite the success (so far) that we’d hoped they’d be. For instance, this is our cover crop of clover:

clover

Underwhelming, I know.

And this is our bed of fava beans and peas:

fava beans and peas

Again, not exactly impressive.

Prepare to be amazed by our winter crop of beets, carrots, kale, and parsnips:

beets and kale

Okay, so maybe amazed isn’t the right word.

Luckily, our broccolini is going crazy – even if we have yet to get any actual broccolini heads.

broccolini

Maybe we can eat the leaves?

Thankfully, the kohlrabi is doing well, along with a few tenacious late-season tomatoes.

kohlrabi and tomatoes

Mmmm, kohlrabi… I know what we’re having for dinner tonight!

And in another blow to our gardener’s pride, our spinach seems to be laughing at us.

spinach

It’s a good thing I’m not like Popeye and NEED spinach…

What seems to be the trouble?!?! Where have we gone wrong!??!?!?

Well, the problem with the a lot of the crops is the infestation of cabbage loopers and cabbage worms. (This article talks about the differences between the varieties. All I know is they’re eating our stuff.) We’re trying to be as organic and earth-friendly as we can, so we’ve limited ourselves to vigorous applications of Bacillus thuringensis and sparing applications of Sevin dust. We seem to be holding our own on the broccolini, but I doubt we’ll get a single fava bean out of the crop this year. 😦

And then we’ve had problems with poor germination. After these pictures, the DreadBrewer did plant some more kale from a different seed packet and we had a much higher germination rate. But we’re still batting well below 500 on the beets, parsnips, and spinach. Given the amount of time and energy DB puts into selecting the ideal cultivars and the amount of money we put into buying seeds from reputable sources, I’m fairly affronted by the poor showing from our seeds.

However, hope springs eternal, particularly for gardeners. So we’ve recently planted our new crops of garlic and shallots, as well as a cover crop of field peas and oats. And we’ve got leeks to go in the ground as soon as it stops raining for a few days. Come hell or high water, we will have a winter garden.

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