May 18, 1998

Sometimes I think the reason more people don't grow winter vegetables is due to the advance planning required. With summer veggies the gratification is more immediate, although it may not seem that way at the time! But a successful winter garden has to be planted four to six months ahead of time. Not only do these crops need more time to develop, but also you have to consider their placement with respect to your summer plantings. Unfortunately, all this has to occur when your summer gardening chores are also at their peak.

Leeks, which we discussed last time, are at the far extreme in terms of the growing time required. If you haven't already sown them, you better do it soon! The window of opportunity is about to close.

Another vegetable which should be sown in May is celery. A lot of people start it indoors earlier than this, but I like to sow it directly into the ground during May. Celery is only half-hardy, so a cloche or PVC hoophouse will be a must if you want it to survive into winter.

The major winter sowings, however, occur in June and the first half of July. Most of the Brassicas for fall or winter harvest are started in June . Brussels sprouts and cabbage should be started right about June 1 if you want them to size up in time for winter. Broccoli and cauliflower, if sown anytime during that month, will be ready to harvest from late summer (early varieties) through early winter, yielding abundant harvests until killed by cold or rain-induced rots. Kale, collards, mustard and kohlrabi size up faster and don't need to be sown until July. Remember that mustard will bolt if sown much earlier than this.

Root crops generally must go in by the first part of July. With carrots there is a large degree of variability depending on variety - some need to be sown by mid-June, while others can be successfully started in late July. Winter beets, however, all seem to do best if they are planted around July 1. Parsnips are less picky, and can be sown anytime from April through early July.

The shortest time requirement belongs to the leafy greens. Lettuce, spinach, endive, escarole, garden cress, maché, and raddichio don't need to be planted until August. Lettuce, spinach, and maché are annuals, and will bolt if sown too early. The others are biennial and can be started earlier than this if desired.

Juggling all these along with the summer vegetables can get complicated! If you start tossing in the overwintered crops (garlic, sprouting broccoli, and others) and green manures it can be a real mess. I highly recommend that you sit down with a piece of paper and diagram your garden plan. It really will help you later! A word of advice, based on personal experience: If you have many different plantings that are going under the same cover (for example a hoophouse), be sure your plan will allow them to be in adjacent beds. I know this seems obvious, and it is - but sometimes not until AFTER the fact.

Some time ago I condensed all this information into a single chart, which is part of the page Winter Vegetable Gardening in the Maritime Pacific Northwest. The chart also covers some other winter vegetables which were not mentioned in this article. You might find it to be a handy guide as you think about what and when to sow.


All contents © Travis Saling
This page was last updated November 18, 2013