Garden Tips: winter crops

This is the first year where I’ve attempted to keep right on gardening through the winter months. In times past I’ve just called it quits around the time of the first frost, letting unripened tomatoes rot on the vine and the slugs to do what they will, but that’s clearly not happening with a $35-a-week budget. Now I’ve got to actually pay attention to what to plant and when, and what survives a hard frost and what doesn’t.

We’re in USDA Hardiness Zone 8b, so for my first winter-gardening foray, I’ve chosen to plant fennel, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and arugula. I planted these from seed, right in the ground, back in August or so. I’ve also still got parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, apple mint, sorrel, rhubarb and beets in the ground. So, how are they doing now?

So-so.

Granted, I just don’t have the time to mess with cold frames or greenhouse construction—especially now that it’s dark by 4:30 pm—so my chances of success aren’t that great to begin with. The rhubarb, sorrel, rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage and beets are doing well, but  that’s about it. The delicate leaves of the apple mint, fennel and oregano succumbed to the frost, while the slugs and various parasitic worms are having a field day with the cabbage, spinach, lettuce and arugula. As for the slugs, the chickens’ having free rein over the yard has done nothing to lessen their population. In fact, even though it’s been at or below freezing outside for some time now, I’m still seeing these under pots and logs:

Slug eggs. Evil, evil slug eggs.

I’ve tried little containers of beer set level with the soil, but they need to be refilled every couple of days, and aren’t much help when it’s raining. I’ve tried coffee, both grounds and sprayed on (both pointless). I’ve tried surrounding the base of plants with hair (which not only has the awful effect of making the plants look like they have pubes, it doesn’t work). I can’t use toxic chemicals because we have two cats and a dog romping around in the yard at any given time, which pretty much leaves me with only one option for slug abatement: iron phosphate pellets.

As anyone who has attempted gardening probably knows, this stuff is EXPENSIVE. Like, $14 for a small container expensive. And you have to use it constantly.

I’ve been trying to ration it by skipping a couple days here and there if I know it’s going to be super-cold outside, but inevitably I’ll come out and find my lettuce leaves looking like doilies tatted by a drunken bear. So, the battle wages on.

To end on a more helpful note, here are some other things that are supposedly great to plant in the winter, but which I don’t like to eat:

• Brussels sprouts
• Cauliflower
• Fava beans
• Collard and mustard greens
• Radishes

• Broccoli

If anyone has any better ideas for slug control, please feel free to share them.

4 responses to “Garden Tips: winter crops

  1. Ok, just for the sake of argument, let’s say your fennel did survive. Then what? Specifically, what is one supposed to do with all that stalky stuff after you use the bulb for whatever?

    • The fronds (not the stalks) are great chopped and used as a garnish for whatever you’re using the bulb for, or as a substitute for dill. Some people use the whole tops—stalks AND fronds—as a bed for roasting fish.

  2. Just out of curiosity – how did your garden grow over the winter. I think I am in the hardiness zone 8b too and we want to garden all year round this year.

    • To be honest, it wasn’t great. The past few winters have been colder and wetter than normal, so nothing really thrived. This year we have a greenhouse, though, so my hopes are high.

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