Fall Planting and Winter Greens

Thursday Sep 04 2014

Growing plants in the cooler months is a little bit like using a slow cooker -- it might take longer, but at lower temperatures the flavour really seems to set in. Kale, for example, becomes even sweeter with a frost. The science behind it says that the plant will convert its existing starches into sugars as an anti-freeze mechanism, (so harvesting our winter greens, we really are like kids in a candy shop. . .). Fall weather also gives some relief from the summer heat which can cause some greens and herbs to flower and go to seed too quickly.  If you don't have a greenhouse or even cold frames, you can still extend your season with tricks like row cover, thick mulch and suitable planting varieties.

Tips for season extension:
- Cooler temperatures and less sun mean that a plant's growth rate will be significantly reduced. Even with cold hardy and frost tolerant crops, you should expect a slower and smaller harvest.
- Make sure your plants are well established by November so they will survive snow and freezing. Generally, sow by mid-September at the latest.
- Mulch, mulch, mulch! Straw, hay, leaves, wood chips . . . are nice little blankets, protecting your top-soil and your winter crops.
- Winter harvesting rules are just about the opposite of what you would do during the summer. When snow hits, wait until the hottest time of the day to pick from your plants. If there is any frost on the leaves, gently leave them in a bowl or on the counter to thaw.

What to plant?
- Think cabbage family: kale, mustard greens, bok choy, tat soi, arugula, mizuna, and cress are all great cold temperature crops to grow. The smaller, leafy greens tend to mature in 20-30 days. See our Fall Planting section for some ideas.
- Kale and chard are very forgiving of being left out in the cold. Harvest the outer leaves first (including any yellowing or dead leaves) and make sure to leave at least 4 leaves at the top for the plant to regrow.
- There's a leek in my bucket . . . while leeks will go dormant during the winter, they will be a great treat for early spring harvest. Once the snow starts to melt your leeks will wake up and beg to be stirred into your soup pot with those leftover storage root crops.
- Spinach is a cool-loving, fast-growing plant; also great for cold frames or unheated greenhouses. Choose the Giant Winter variety.
- Coriander/cilantro has a tendency to bolt when it's stressed, so planting in the cooler months can give you a hassle-free, fresh harvest.
- Pea shoots, anyone? If you don't fancy plowing through the snow to get at your greens, growing pea shoots in your kitchen is a nice way to get a taste of summer. We have detailed growing instructions here.

Keep in mind that, here at Hope Seeds, we spend fall and early winter cleaning seed, testing germination and packaging new seeds -- so most products on our webstore will be deactivated from October 1st until November 30th. Books and gift certificates are always available.

You can look forward to a new catalogue in the New Year. As always, thank you for letting us know if you've changed your address.

Happy Harvest!




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