If you’re not keeping your vegetable garden productive through the winter, you’re missing out on one of the most rewarding times of the year for growing vegetables. An amazing selection of vegetables can only be grown here during the cool season from October-November through April-May.
Another reason for putting in a fall-winter vegetable garden now is that the weather is so mild. Although we’ll have spells of cold weather this winter, we’ll have plenty of beautiful, mild days when you can get out and tend the garden.
It’s also worth noting that during the cool season, pest problems are reduced. We generally have fewer insect and disease problems, although cool-season annual weeds continue to grow through winter. This means it’s still important to use mulches and promptly deal with weeds that do show up.
Cole is the old term for cabbage (as in coleslaw – cabbage salad). The cole crops are cabbage and several other closely related vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi and collards.
Broccoli and cauliflower may be unreliable if they’re planted into the garden this late. Although these plants are hardy, the broccoli and cauliflower heads we eat can be damaged by hard freezes. So planting transplants this late is questionable except in the very mildest-winter portions of the state. You may, however, plant transplants in January for spring production.
If you planted transplants of broccoli and cauliflower in August or September, you should be harvesting soon. Broccoli heads are harvested when the largest flower buds in the head are about the size of the head of a kitchen match. After the main head is harvested, the plant will produce side florets, and harvesting can continue for several weeks, often doubling the production of each plant.
Cauliflower produces only one head. So after harvesting, remove the entire plant from your garden to make way for planting something else. For white heads, blanch the cauliflower by pulling the leaves up over the head when it is about the size of a silver dollar. Fasten the leaves with a clothes pin or twine and check the head frequently. Harvest before the curds of the head start to separate.
You can plant garlic October through November by pressing individual cloves – big end down – into prepared soil. The tip of the garlic toe should be about one-quarter inch below the soil surface. Space the cloves 4 to 6 inches apart in rows spaced about 15 inches apart.
Garlic growth is slow, and you can use the 15-inch space between rows for intercropping. Intercropping is a term used when two or more different vegetables are grown in the same space at the same time. The garlic plants will not use the 15 inches between the rows for several months, and a quick-growing vegetable can be grown in that area and harvested before the garlic needs it.
Good choices would include radishes, leaf lettuce, beets and spinach. These vegetables are not large growers and will be harvested long before the garlic is ready next May. You can also intercrop with other vegetables that are initially spaced far apart, such as cabbage and cauliflower.
Root crops are also excellent for the cool-season vegetable garden. They should always be direct-seeded into the garden where they will grow and never be transplanted. The tiny root the seed first sends out eventually develops into the edible vegetable. If this is damaged, as generally happens when you transplant seedlings, the result is a deformed root.
Plant two or three times as many seeds per foot of row as the number of plants you actually need to make sure you get a good stand. When the seeds sprout, it is very important to thin the seedlings to the proper spacing.
Learning to thin seedlings properly is a critical part of direct seeding. When the seedlings come up, it is hard for many gardeners to force themselves to remove the extras. It’s difficult to make yourself kill off many of the seedlings you just worked so hard to create. But the unneeded seedlings must be pinched off at the soil line to allow room for the remaining plants to grow and produce properly.
Some commonly planted root crops and their proper spacing are beets, 3 to 4 inches; radishes, 2 to 3 inches; turnips, 3 inches; carrots, 2 inches; and rutabaga, 4 inches.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu