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Winter Gardening


Winter gardening in Southern Oregon

 

 Webmaster's note: We have shamelessly reproduced on this page, an article from a new publication, Southern Oregon Magazine. You can read more at their website

Southern Oregon offers gardners a terrific climate for fall and winter planting.

Gardening as the
Season Turns Cold

words by jennifer strange

Corn Salad, fava beans and various root crops such as carrots, parsnips, beets, multiplier onions, and rutabagas are happily planted in the fall. So are members of the brassica family: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and kale. When sowed in early autumn, they will start producing edibles in November. If no head has grown on a plant by then, it will go dormant through the coldest season and then produce in February.

"For a winter garden, everything should be in the ground by mid-September," Powell advises. "All your plants are going to need a certain amount of growth before entering into a low-growth and/or dorment stage as you approach the winter solstice."

Tend a fall garden by first harvesting summer produce. Picking all tomatoes, summer squash, melons, eggplants, cucumbers and peppers before the first frost will prevent chill damage. For a mild frost warning (not below 30 degrees Fahrenheit), plants that still hold immature fruit can be covered for protection, allowing some fruit to ripen during the season's final warm days.

FALL IN SOUTHERN OREGON IS SYNER -GISTICALLY ALIGNED WITH HARVEST TIME

--pears are at their ripest, apples droop to the ground, squash overflows from bins and barrels and melons and tomatoes offer their last juicy hurrah. Yet harvest isn't the only thing going on . . . when well planned and cleverly planted, an autumn garden can produce vegetables through winter and make a nutritious bed for next spring's early crops.

"We have a great climate for fall and winter gardening, and it's way underutilized," says Maud Powell, a small farms agent at the OSU Extension Servce for Jackson, Josephine and Douglas counties. "The trick is learning about the light declination after summer solstice on June 21."

 That's when sunlight starts to wane, causing plants to grow more slowly. And as the daylight becomes shorter, the temperature starts to drop.

Fortunately for gardeners, Southern Oregon meets the darkening days with an in-between climate zone that's closer to arid California than to the rainforest wetness found in most of the Pacific Northwest. Officially, it's called "Sunset zone 7, USDA Hardiness zone 7b."

"It's more of a Mediterranean climate, and it's one of the few parts of the world that has that --- hot summers, cool winters," says Joshua Bury, who gardens a medium-sized urban plot in Grants Pass and blogs under the name Southern Oregon Garden Geek. "Some plants don't love it, but a lot do."

 

Cooler-weather vegetables like carrots and potatoes that were planted in the summer can withstand frosts and even long-term frozen spells.

"If you do have those crops planted, leave some of them in ground storage," suggests Powell. "They don't grow any more, but they do sweeten up."

Next, plant fall and winter crops and mulch them heavily with straw or leaves to insulate them from too much frost. You can further protect your crops and soil from

heavy rains while extending your growing season by installing a cloche, hot bed, cold frame or other structure.

In areas where no crops are planted, do plant a cover crop for the winter.

"The function is you're protecting your ground from erosion," Powell says. "And when winter rains come, you won't lose your topsoil like you would if you left it bare. It'll actually enhance your soil."

A typical cover crop for Southern Oregon would be oats combined with red clover, bell beans and vetch. The clover and bell beans  are legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil, while the vetch usually helps supress weeds.

"Not only are you fixing nitrogen in the soil and preventing erosion, you're also going to have all this organic material," says Powell.

The cover crop should be allowed to grow as tall as possible and should be 1-1/2 to 2 feet tall by spring.

"Then till it into the soil during a dry spell --- as early as February," counsels Powell. "It will need a couple weeks for the organic material to decompose before planting any crops. But that's not too much work, and it's certainly worth it for the dramatic results."

Once your fall garden has been harvested, planted, protected and prepared for the following spring, it's time to sit back and plan.

"If you're going to be rotating your crops, look through seed catalogs and dream about the crops you want to try," Powell says. "Plan for succession so you've got crops rotating from year to year, being sure not to grow the same crops in the same location for an integrated pest management program."

Visiting nursuries is another way to gain information about Southern Oregon horticulture.

"There's usually knowledgable staff that can help you learn what to grow and what is appropriate for your microclimate," says Bury. "This is true in the fall and winter, too."

So even when your green thumb needs a glove for warmth, if you've planned well, you can still be digging in the garden well past summertime.

 

Root crops are perfect for fall planting.