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Fall and Winter Vegetable Garden – Part 2

November Question of the month: I have heard you can have a fall and winter vegetable garden here in Texas. Can you help get me started?

This article is a follow up article from October’s question of the month. In the October article I wrote about fall vegetable gardening. I touched on the summer (every season actually) cutdown of spent vegetables, amending the soil, choosing vegetables for fall planting, average frost dates, and how to protect vegetables in freezing temperatures. Before reading this article, I recommend rereading last October's article.

Now, let’s talk about winter vegetable gardening. If you are interested in year round vegetable gardening a journal and planting calendar become important because they will help you stay organized. You will also find you will ask yourself the same questions every season. Am I amending the soil enough? Should I allow part of my garden go fallow for a season? What vegetables do I want to try? Am I rotating my vegetables making sure I don’t plant the same vegetable family in the same spot multiple times?

I covered amending the soil in my last article but will emphasis again how important it is to constantly add nutrients to the soil. Now that you are gardening year round, a soil test or an inspection of your plants will help you determine if your soil needs to be amended. I find observing how the plants are growing is a real easy way to judge the quality of the soil. A plant in nutrient rich soil will grow quickly, have vibrant colors, and be a sturdy plant.

While the winter temperatures in Texas are generally mild, it can still get cold and north winds coming from the Oklahoma can surely keep you indoors more. Winter is a perfect time to let part of your garden go fallow because you may plant fewer vegetables and stay inside and drink hot chocolate 😊. Letting part of your garden go fallow will give the soil time to recharge for the upcoming spring planting. Use your journal to keep up with what sections of your garden have gone or will go fallow. Once you decide which section is going fallow, add a heavy application of compost or aged manure to the soil, cover with a straw or leaf mulch, and let this section sit idle for a few months.

Next, what do you want to grow during winter? Most fall vegetable gardens will have cool weather greens like kale, swiss chard, spinach, and lettuce. These vegetables will do fine in a Texas winter and will continue to grow until sometime in May. Texas A&M Agrilife Service has a great planting guide to help with vegetable selection. Here is the link. https://cdn-ext.agnet.tamu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/EHT-077-texas-home-vegetable-gardening-guide.pdf . Go to the end of the article for the plant selection guide. In North Texas, plants such as cabbage, broccoli, collards, and cauliflower do well in winter. If you are starting from seed start these plants in the fall. Transplants can be bought at the local nursery and put straight into the ground. Don’t forget you can plant garlic in October for a May harvest. You can also plant onion slips in January for a May harvest (Georgia sweet onions do well here).

It is at this point winter gardening gets interesting. You will have to become more in tune with the weather. As I mentioned in my previous article, freezing temperatures and the length of time below freezing become very important pieces of information. If the temperatures drop to around 30 degrees for a few hours mature vegetables will be fine (you will need to build up some mulch around immature plants). However, if the temperatures are below 30 degrees and will stay there for a day or two, you will need a way to protect your plants. There are many ways to do this. There are cold frames, cloches, and even greenhouses which will protect your plants. However, most of us have simple raised bed in the back yard or a regular garden in the ground which make the structures mentioned above impractical. A more practical idea is to use a frost cloth.

The advantages of a frost cloth include:

  1. Protect plants from frost and wind,
  2. Cost as little as 1.8 to 2.7 cents a square foot,
  3. May be used for several years,
  4. Allow water, air, and sunlight to still reach the plants, and
  5. Frost clothes are easy to store when not needed.

The disadvantages of frost cloth are:

  1. You don’t want to leave your plants covered more than a few days and
  2. The Texas winds will blow the covers off if they are not securely attached to something. Keep the cover close to the ground and create a low profile to the wind.

If you see a freeze coming and it is going to be around for a few days go out to your garden and:

  1. Build up some mulch around tender young plants,
  2. Water your garden well, and
  3. Securely put the frost cloth down.
  4. As soon as the freezing weather has passed, go to the garden and remove the cloth and water your plants. They will perk up in about a day. Leafy greens will get leaf burn by the freeze so cut the burned leaves off. The plant will have new growth in a few weeks.

And lastly, are you rotating your vegetable families so they aren’t in the same spot in the garden more than a time or two. This is important because insects will lay eggs around plants they like as food sources. If you grow the same plant in the same spot the eggs will hatch and the insects will go after their preferred plants. This concept is important with fall and winter gardens because you can grow broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower in the fall and again in the winter.

So there you have it. You have just added fall and winter seasons to your vegetable garden. For those of us who like fresh vegetables, we are in business all year around. And we can now play in the dirt all year around too. There is also the concept eating what nature provides us. In society today we have lost touch with natures cycles because we can get vegetables almost any time of the year. But they may have been sprayed with preservatives, stored in a cooler for months somewhere, and really have lost a lot of their nutritional value. By eating what we can grow we are more in sync with nature and her ways.  

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