Now Is the Winter of Our Garden Discontent

In years past, with the return of the Oregon winter rains, we’d have been ready to declare another end of the gardening year.  But I actually worked hard this year on expanding the “winter” garden, and in getting the garden ready to make an early start next Feb/March.  So, we can be more gracious this year and say that our garden is “in transition” rather than decline.

What can one grow in a winter garden in USDA zone 8A?  Well, I’ll give you a quick check-off, but I must also give you qualifiers – a lot of stuff on this list will succeed or fail depending on the care and maintenance it receives both before and during the winter season – that said, here’s what I’m growing, and expecting to do well, this winter.

Young Brussels Sprouts

Prime candidate, above all, is Brussels Sprouts.  Several years ago, this was my first success for a winter crop – and it did so well that I’ve grown it every winter since.  B.S. actually loves the mild, wet winters here, and even though it has reached as low as the low 20s on occasion, B.S. have never flinched – So, I actually build the winter garden on this one plant.

Sprouting Broccoli

I’ve also got a few relatives of B.S. as well – to keep them company.  A few types of cabbages, and a few types of broccoli – for one, a really long season Sprouting Broccoli (200+ days!) which has a unique growth pattern – it starts growing the summer before, and actually gets quite large – but it doesn’t flower, and as winter arrives, it just stops growing and sits there – waiting for spring, I suppose.  Come March, it’ll begin putting out a bazillion bud pods, like miniature regular broccoli.  I actually think a Sprouting Broccoli puts out more total buds than does regular broccoli – and it has far more taste – but no commercial grower wants to try and keep picking all those tiny bud pods, when they can just take one big one and be done with it!  You’ll never see sprouting broccoli in your grocery.

Spigariello Leaf Broccoli

The other broccoli is a “leaf” broccoli called, Spigariello – it is grown for the leaves, not the buds.  This is the first year I’ve grown it, and I have no idea whether it will keep growing all winter long, but I suspect it will.

Garlic and shallots are put in the garden in September, and “winter over”.  Sometimes they pop up before the worst of winter sets in, but often they don’t even show above ground before late February, when they actually do start to actively grow.

Never-ending Green Onions

Another onion family member is providing some winter interest this year – I had probably my best Green Onion (scallion) summer ever this year, and frankly, we had so many that we didn’t use them all.  Since I don’t know of a way to preserve green onions, I’ve decided just to leave them alone and see what they do.  If they start to show signs of rotting in the wet and cold, then I’ll run out and pull them and put them in dry sawdust – and maybe freeze some.  But I have a good feeling that those babies will just get fat and big and sit there waiting for spring too.

There are also two kinds of chard working their way into winter, and we’ll just keep pulling off the outside leaves of those and see how long they want to keep going – if it gets too cold, they’ll succumb, otherwise, they just may make it.

Komatsuna

I’ve saved the best til last – my potential stars are all Asian greens.  Several years ago, I grew Komatsuna for the first time – and it blew me away!  This is a big (18″x18″) dark green plant, that grows out of a central “rosette” base, and you harvest the leaves by pulling away those on the far outside, and new ones grow out from the middle – It is really fast growing – if you cut it off an inch above its base, in about 7-10 days, it’s ready to be cut again!  I’m not kidding.  There is some evidence that production will be enhanced if the rows are covered with plastic to shield the plants from excess rain (which we have in spades), and if the freezes are not severe – in other words, 20 degrees F will not be good!  And although I’m growing both bok choy and gai lan too this winter, I suspect they share the same adaptability characteristics with komatsuna – we’ll see.

Komatsuna - cut three days ago

Now, it occurs to me that I may have made winter in the northwest sound a bit like our prime gardening season – and if I have, I apologize.  There is absolutely no commercial growing going on around here now – just what some call “over-wintering”, which is done with garlic and some onions – but nothing else.  Only a few fools like me are serious about winter gardening – and the primary reason for this fact is the slug!

Moderate Slug Damage on a Young Brussels Sprout

Slugs can by themselves wipe out an otherwise healthy and productive garden – do nothing about them, and you get little in return for your garden investment.  They love the rain – they seem little bothered by cold or frost, and they are multiplying out there as we speak.  All winter long, slugs are ravenously consuming any growing thing, garden, weeds, anything – and getting larger by the day.  Baits and poisons that work well in the summer are ineffective in winter because of the rain.  Basically, slugs do as they please all winter long – and any gardener who challenges them is soon brought to their knees.

So, what’s a gardener to do?  Simple – get a garden duck!  A garden duck is a domestic duck -preferably a female duck- that is fed and has a nesting area close to a garden.  Ducks, unlike chickens, have little interest in mature plants, and they can be trained what to forage and what not to – but they absolutely love slugs!  And a duck that is fed and housed (they must have a secure house at night) in a particular area will stay in that area without being fenced.  A garden duck is a gardener’s best friend.

Garden Duck on the Job (photo credit: http://www.citydata.com/)

I grew up on a chicken farm and we raised pedigreed collies – my father always had a duck around – why? I have no idea.  But I do know that a duck has FAR more personality than does a chicken (a chicken has none!).  A duck makes an excellent yard pet – and dogs and ducks get alone together quite well.  Our duck was often found sleeping with the dogs.  And a female duck lays eggs -quite nice eggs- and twice the size of a chicken egg.  One egg = breakfast.

I’ll be going back to nature for my garden defense this coming year – we’ll soon be getting a new dog -we’re on the lookout now- and I know that deer do not like yards with dogs.  And we’ll also be getting a garden duck to keep the dog company.

A natural defense against slugs and deer – my god, if I keep this up, I’ll be organic before I know it!

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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12 Responses to Now Is the Winter of Our Garden Discontent

  1. I would love a garden duck! Those eggs would be perfect for Christmas baking too!

    We are just debating whether to grow some winter salad crops. I like the sound of those Asian greens. I tried something called Chinese brocoli, just a short row, but it seems to be flowering and hasn’t got very big. The chard we grew last winter survived through our english snowfalls very well, and the big cavalo nero is very frost hardy too, have you grown that one in your trials? Anyway I think it is fabulous to have home grown winter greens and you’ve reminded me that I have to plant some garlic soon 🙂 Great Post!

  2. drfugawe says:

    Hi Jo,
    Thanks for visiting – I had to google cavalo nero, and I see that’s it’s a type of kale – Yes, it should have very good “wintering” ablilities, since the kales have roots in the far north – I didn’t get any in this year, since at the time when my winter stuff should be planted, much of the garden space is held by still growing summer stuff! So I have to pick carefully what goes into the winter garden.

    Your Chinese broccoli is probably Gai Lan, which is supposed to, almost immediately, begin to produce seed heads (like tiny broccoli heads). If you keep them cut (and eaten!), they just keep making more and more, all the while the plant gets bigger and bigger. Don’t let the seed heads open too much (a little “flowering” is OK) or the stalks get fibrous. If you don’t have enough for a meal, just slip what you have into a plastic bag and fridge it for a week or so, until your plants make more.

    Gai Lan is also called Chinese Kale, because genetically, it’s closer to a kale than to a broccoli, but it sure as hell reminds me more of broccoli that kale! It’s wonderful stuff, and much tastier than broccoli.

    But if I could suggest just one Asian green to try, it’d be Komatsuna, which I’m sure is available on your side – space wise, it gives us more production -and faster- than any other single plant. And it’s really good, especially if you enjoy spinach.

    May the garden gods be with you this winter.

  3. Glenn says:

    If it walks like a Doc, quacks like a Doc, it’s a……..

    Awesome that you can get produce from your yard in the winter.
    The only thing we grow in the winter here are icicles.

    You get any snow there, or mostly rain?

    • drfugawe says:

      Of course we get snow – here’s a good example:
       photo IMG_1587.jpg
      This was perhaps our most severe storm in memory – back in March of ’06 – maybe even close to an inch! Stayed around for at least 3, maybe 4 hours of daylight.

      Yeah, we see snow about once every five years or so – we’re overdue now. But to show you the diversity of this state’s climate, we’re about 2 hours west of Crater Lake, where they get about 25 feet of snow each winter! The snow on the east side of the Crater never melts entirely – and some years, the road on that side of the park never opens. It’s just crazy.

      It’s the clouds, baby!

  4. There are 4 different sorts of Komatsuna, can you cast your eagle eyes over the catalogue and tell me which one is most similar to yours 😉 about half way down the page

    http://www.nickys-nursery.co.uk/seeds/pages/altsal_mizuna_mustard.htm

    • drfugawe says:

      Hey Jo,
      The Torasan looks like the one – don’t know why it’s named “baby leaf”, since they get get up to two feet long – but maybe they mean when grown for salad greens, and more closely bunched. I’ve got mine about a foot apart, and they overlap some.

      I’ve never cooked up the stalks (I cut off the green part and either steam or boil) but I will soon cook up some of the stalk to see what it’s like – if it’s crunchy rather than fibrous, it may be eatable too. BTW, the greens are great in Asian soups or stir fries, and especially good sauteed with garlic and olive oil!

    • drfugawe says:

      Jo, Where are you in the UK? Are you still able to plant winter stuff now? I know there’s quite a difference in the climate over there between the north and the south.

      Hey, while I’ve got your attention – I’ve not been able to get email notification of comments from your blog – this is very strange because we’re both using WordPress, and that should make it automatic! I don’t really understand this stuff much, so that’s part of the problem – but I also have this same problem with other blogs that are NOT WordPress – so it may well be me. But I always get my own blog’s comment notifications, and a few other WordPress blogs as well. Strange!

      ###

  5. I’m in the southwest, Bristol. Still have flowers and things budding, but the clocks go back tonight and the days are getting shorter. I have a raised bed which is very warm, and could put a cloche over seeds or put in cold frame. Not sure but it might be too late to plant for winter now, apart from the garlic and the tulips.

    I’m not sure I understand your WP query. Are you talking about that box you check when you comment on a post and ask for follow up comments to your comment to be emailed to you? I think it only works for individual posts at that point, if you want to subscribe to all the comments and or posts in a wp blog you have to use the RSS feeds which are in the meta section and put them in your menu bar or whatever you do with your RSS feeds. There are also options in the Dashboard under My Account which helps you track where you have been commenting and should in theory show your subscriptions to other blogs and you can set there whether you want to be emailed weekly, instantly and so on. They seem a bit buggy sometimes.

    Email me if I can help any further. 🙂 Jo

  6. Anet says:

    A duck? Maybe, but a stray cat seems to have adopted us and that’s enough for now. Unfortunately we can’t keep a dog to scare the deer away — the fencing around the garden area does well though.
    My fall/winter garden is going strong because the Tennessee autumn weather has been warm up until now, the 1st frost was just this week.
    My new asian green experiment is pac choi (varieties of ‘mei qing’ and ‘red choi’) — I tried to grow it in the late spring/early summer but the bugs got to it and it was just too warm. Now it is growing very well. I’m clipping individual leaves instead of whole plants for salads.
    I thought about komatsuna but our one big leaf green, kale, is enough for the small cold frame enclosure.
    Good luck with your over-the-winter-garden.

    • drfugawe says:

      I’ve already got a garden cat – but she doesn’t eat slugs and she keeps using my newly planted beds for a scat-box! Yeah, I have much more luck with my Asian greens in fall than in spring.

      Are you doing any lettuce? I have trouble with winter lettuce – do you like Brussels sprouts? They do well right out in the open garden, even in hard freezes.

  7. Pingback: Outside the back door | Zeb Bakes

  8. Anet says:

    My greens under the cold frame do very well most of the winter, though January can be a dormant time. Lettuces varieties are; black seeded simpson (because it always grows), a similar one called Waldmann’s dark green, two romaines that I just pick young leaves (red rosie and green jericho), spinach (3 different kinds – bloomsdale, lavewa, and a pretty bordeaux with red outlined leaves), and the usual arugula which also always grows fast and furiously.
    Long ago I tried growing brussel sprouts but they attracted a lot of bugs and of the family only I ate them much. Easier to buy.

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