For The Answer
Weekly Express-News Article
Saturday, November 19, 2005
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist “Cool Weather Crops in the Vegetable Garden”
Here in the San Antonio area we can have blooms 12 months of the year and we can also have vegetables all year. The winter time is an especially good time to grow vegetables. Grow vegetables in raised beds or native soils enriched with compost. Some produce well in containers. Most vegetables require fall sun to be productive. Consider broccoli, spinach, onions, carrots, rutabagas, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and greens for the winter.
Broccoli is the king of the winter garden. The plants are easy to grow and they produce a bountiful crop of nutritious, tasty heads. It can be planted from September through February. The earlier you plant it the more heads you can harvest because after the large heads are cut, small side heads will be produced for most of the winter. Use transplants and place them at least 18 inches apart. Two feet apart is not too much space. Protect broccoli and the other cole crops (cabbage related) from cabbage loopers with a Bt product such as Bioworm Control, Dipel, or Thuricide. Fertilize all the foliage crops heavily, one-quarter cup per plant at planting and one-half cup every four weeks. Use a slow release lawn fertilizer such as 19-5-9. Water broccoli when the soil dries to one inch after it is established by watering every two days for the first ten days.
Spinach is even more nutritious than broccoli and nearly as easy to grow, especially if you use Coho transplants. The Coho variety is resistant to rust, the major problem with spinach. Rust shows up in warm weather and kills the plants. Plant spinach transplants 1-1.5 feet apart. Care for them the same as you would broccoli. Harvest the fresh leaves, as you need them, never taking more than one-third of leaves if you want them to produce until late spring.
Carrots can tolerate nearly as much cold weather as broccoli and spinach if they are well established before the freezing temperatures arrive. Harvest carrots as you need them from the bed though out the winter or pick and freeze them when they get the size you want. I plant my carrots by spreading the seed on the surface of a well-prepared row one foot wide. Do not cover the soil. A water wand is the best way to water. Wet the soil every day until the seed germinates, and then water as you do the other vegetables after that.
Leaf lettuce works well when planted by the same method as carrots and harvested just like the spinach. Lettuce is more cold sensitive then the other vegetables and may freeze in mid-winter. Leaf lettuce is a great crop for containers.
Beets are very nutritious and productive. Plant them by seed every two inches in a row. Use every other plant for greens and allow the rest to produce roots. Beets are my favorite greens. They are more cold sensitive then carrots, but not as sensitive as lettuce. Most winters they survive throughout.
Rutabagas and turnips have a completely different taste than beets and they are much more productive. Use the roots boiled just like you would potatoes. Both turnips and rutabagas are very cold tolerant. Turnip tops are often used as greens.
Some area gardeners plant onions as seeds in October, but most of us wait until December or January to place onion plants. Plant them in a row, two inches apart. Use the middle two onions as green onions and let the remainder develop the bulb. Harvest the bulb in late May or early June. Onions do best when fertilized just like broccoli.
There are a large selection of greens that will provide nutritious vegetables all winter. Swiss Chard is available in plain old green or try “Bright Light” which has yellow, red, orange, and even blue stems. Mustard is tasty and productive with considerable heat tolerance. Kale and collards are especially good if you like cabbage and prefer to harvest leaf-by-leaf visited of a whole head.
Other cole crops such as cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts should be planted now. They are slower to produce a head. Harvest them next February. Allow at least two feet between plants. Cabbage is nearly as quick as broccoli to produce its crop. Plant transplants 14-18 inches apart. Grow cabbage and the other cole crops just like broccoli.