June 8, 1999

One of the truths that the year-round vegetable gardener must recognize is that in order to be successful, you have to think ahead. In years like this one it means getting a start on your winter garden when it may seem like you still haven't escaped the previous winter! But the winter garden is less forgiving than the summer garden, certainly in terms of sowing times.

A lot of us (myself included) are way behind in our garden chores this season. When our May weather isn't good, it's too easy to fall behind in our planting and weeding. Unfortunately the weeds absolutely adore this weather - they're out there snickering at us right now. In times like these people are obviously longing for good weather and the harvest of cucumbers, corn, tomatoes, and other summer staples. When they can't get these plants in early, they push everything else back too. I hope I can get at least some of you to rethink this strategy. If you are behind in your garden, and must choose between various activities, I think it's wise to push back or entirely forgo some of the summer crops in favor of starting the winter ones. There are several reasons for this.

First, many summer crops are fast growing, and therefore more forgiving in regards to planting time. Pole beans, for instance, can be planted as late as early July and will still yield respectable amounts by September. In contrast most of the winter vegetables that we're concerned with during summer grow slowly, and need all the allotted time to develop fully.

Second is the issue of quality. Some home-grown summer vegetables, such as tomatoes, are notably superior to what can be purchased. Most, however, are more or less comparable. Of course there's still the concern over pesticide residues, but organic produce is now widely available. By contrast, winter vegetables out of your garden are remarkably superior in appearance, taste, and nutritional value. A large percentage of what's available in the store during winter isn't even grown in this hemisphere! All that time spent in transit means lower quality and nutrient content.

Side by side with quality is simple economics. During summer local produce is abundant and cheap. When you can buy Puyallup-grown corn for 10 cents an ear, it's hard to justify the summer garden on monetary considerations! Contrast this to winter, when lettuce can be $1.50 a head and leeks are $3.00 a pound. Toss in some other expensive but easily grown items such as arugula and escarole, and you're really saving money.

Finally there's the fun factor. Perhaps it's not your idea of fun to slog out in the mud to get that night's dinner, but I enjoy it. Cloches will provide adequate protection for those vegetables that need it, but if you have room I urge you to consider a PVC Hoophouse. With a hoophouse you have a place to get out of the rain, and can do some weeding or even sit back and enjoy your plants.

So what needs to be done right now? Well, Brussels sprouts and cabbage really need to be sown right away, and leeks should already be in (if sown now they will still produce, but they'll be smaller than they could be). Sometime this month fall broccoli and cauliflower have to be sown. There's a whole progression of vegetables that are started over the next three months; look at my Winter Vegetable Gardening Timetable to get all the specifics.


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This page was last updated November 18, 2013