Floridata Article

All Year Vegetable Gardening

Steve's winter vegetable garden
This is Steve's vegetable garden in early winter. Those are peas planted on the trellises in the background. Leaf lettuce and onions are in the foreground.

I love Zone 8! Here where I garden in Zone 8B, near Tallahassee, I plant my winter garden around the time of the first frost in October, just as the beans, peppers, tomatoes, winter squash and eggplants are coming to an end. I plant onions, garlic, leeks, carrots, salsify, scorzenera, parsnips, lettuce, radicchio, chicory, corn salad, beets, spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohl rabi, salad burnet, parsley, kint sai, arugula, radish, turnips and mustard in the very same rows and in between the rows where the summer crops are finishing up. All of these winter veggies can withstand light to moderate freezes, and they grow all winter long.

I begin harvesting some of the winter veggies in November and December, by which time the summer crops are but a memory (or snuggled in my freezer). I plant English peas and potatoes in February. By March, the winter garden is lush and full, and I am setting out tomato, pepper, cucumber and summer squash plants in between and amongst the winter crops. By April, I have harvested most all of the winter veggies that still remain, the tomato and pepper plants are growing strong and I'm planting beans, okra, eggplant and winter squash.

Steve harvests mustard
Steve harvests mustard leaves from the garden in early spring.

I've been doing this for more than 18 years in the exact same spot. The beans and peas are planted in the very same rows (with permanent trellises) year after year. (I know, you are supposed to rotate crops, but I just don't have enough room for that.) I mulch heavily with hay that I buy in those big round rolls. I pile the hay on a foot deep (it quickly settles) and pack it around individual plants and right up to the rows. The hay gradually dissolves into the soil and I add more whenever I see exposed soil or weeds poke up and need to be smothered. I do not fertilize and I do not use poisons. The hay is the fertilizer and the weed killer and it holds moisture in the soil so I don't have to water very often. It's also real nice to walk on - like walking on a thick carpet in the garden.

Summer vegetable garden
The garden is growing crazy by late spring - in the background beans grow on the trellis just behind some tomato plants. In the forground 'Red Sails' lettuce is beginning to bolt (bloom).

I must admit that I do have some soil borne disease and pest problems. Some (but not all) of the cole crops, tomatoes and peppers get virus and/or bacterial diseases, but I always manage to get some veggies before the plants succumb, and there always seem to be a few plants (about one-third) that don't get sick at all. I probably have one of the healthiest root knot nematode populations on the planet, and these weaken most all of my summer plants, especially okra, peppers and some beans. However, the rich, fertile soil and constant moisture allow many of the summer plants to survive the nematodes and produce a respectable crop. (Fortunately for me, root knot nematodes are not active in the winter.)

Regardless of where you live, it's possible to grow vegetables throughout most of the year. Some plants like cool weather while some like it hot. Consult Floridata to learn which edibles will grow in your climate and at what time of the year. Click here for the edible species in the Master Plant List.

Steve Christman 5/11/09

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