January's cold, gray weather often keeps us indoors, so we make good use of the time by developing a garden plan for the coming year. Over time I have learned that planning a summer garden is relatively easy, while spring, fall and especially winter vegetable gardens are more challenging.
One trick I have learned for planning a winter garden is to make a list of vegetables I could be enjoying now, had I planned better last year. For example, I really should have potted up more rosemary to bring inside, as we have harvested all we dare from the one plant we saved. In fact, I intend to create a indoor herb garden for next winter by growing my favorite herbs in containers planted around the first of June. These won't be picked all summer, as we will have plenty of herbs in the garden beds, then. A month before bringing the pots inside, I'll give them all a good pruning, and use or dry the cuttings. That should cause them to put on new growth before they come inside around the end of October. My aim is to bring them indoors just before the first hard freeze. Besides French thyme, Greek oregano and rosemary, my three kitchen staples, I will certainly have a pot or two of parsley.
Because it tolerates some shade, parsley is excellent for growing in a windowsill garden. You can start plants just for the purpose, sowing seeds around the first of June, or in the fall dig a plant out of the garden and pot it up. Use a the largest pot you can manage, and feed the plant a soluble fertilizer to encourage plenty of foliage growth.
With a larger coldframe we could be producing taller plants all winter. With more square feet under plastic, we could easily grow all the cilantro, parsley, dill, chervil, beets, Swiss chard, carrots, corn salad, arugula, mizuna, tatsoi, bak choi, chives, lettuce, scallions and leeks we could use. This is an area I intend to give more effort to during the 2011 growing season. Besides crops that are harvested in winter, cultivars selected for their ability to overwinter and produce a crop very early are worth some experimentation.
The next best thing to fresh, homegrown produce is produce that has been preserved at home, captured at the peak of flavor. Freezing is the main way I preserve fresh veggies, but I also make pickles. Next season, I may purchase a pressure canner and expand my options in the canning realm. Also, I hope to take advantage of seasonal abundance at the Farmer's Market to put up my own tomatoes, fruit preserves and jam.
The garden will have some space devoted to storage crops, a bit more than last year. Potatoes, garlic and shallots are the main ones, and we plan to experiment with perennial onions. They have to be fall planted, though, so we will not see results during 2011.
Root cellar crops, such as beets, carrots, cabbage and turnips, are also on our list. Another possibility is sweet potatoes, although they take up quite a bit of room in the garden. I seldom see my favorite type, the true yam or "white sweet potato" that my grandfather grew, although they turn up from time to time at the Farmer's Market. If I can find some plants, I'll make room for them. Otherwise, I'll rely on the Farmer's Market for sweet potatoes, along with winter squash and pumpkins. Squash family crops typically outgrow our space and many are beset by the squash vine borer, a serious pest.
One of our main garden goals for 2011 is to establish a berry patch. We want to grow our own strawberries, raspberries, and possibly blueberries. We will include progress reports on this and other projects in future posts.