NGA Articles: A Winter Vegetable Garden

A Winter Vegetable Garden (cont)

By: Robert Smaus

Winter Feeding and Weeding

Winter vegetables will grow big and strong with only the fertilizer and soil amendment added at planting time. In well-prepared soil, dig or till in homemade compost with a little cottonseed meal, bloodmeal, bone meal, or other organic fertilizer before planting. They will carry everything through the season.

Many of the winter vegetables prefer sandy soil, so in heavy clay soils or if your vegetable beds aren't already a fluffy gourmet blend, add lots of organic amendments. In the West, most amendments are some mix of ground-up barks and sawdust. They decompose slowly, so unlike compost, they add little or nothing to the soil's fertility but make it more porous and manageable -- more like a sandy soil. Adding sand to your soil, however, is not a good idea.

With every rain, those winter weed seeds that have lain dormant through the summer or have somehow survived the composting process and were added when you were turning the beds will pop up. But unlike summer weeds, which are often perennial, persistent, and deep-rooted, winter's weeds are easy to simply scrape off with a whoosh of the hoe.

Just be aware that they're there, waiting. If you are going to sow seed directly in the ground, it's a good idea to water thoroughly several times after preparing the beds to bring up the weeds. Then carefully hoe them out (try not to uncover more in the process). Then sow.

Another way around weeds is to start everything in flats, move them into saved nursery sixpacks, then transplant into the garden. This way you can at least tell the weeds from the crops.

This is the preferred way of planting all of the cole crops, which have a nasty habit of developing a crook in their necks as seedlings. This makes for tipsy, lopsided cabbage and cauliflower later on, unless you bury the bend when transplanting. For sentry-straight plants, just plant them up to their first set of leaves -- similar to planting a tomato deeply.

To control cabbageworms on broccoli and other cole crops, I apply Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis, a nonpoisonous biological control) as soon as I plant, and reapply a few days after every storm system passes through. Bt works best on young larvae, so don't wait until you see big holes in the leaves. On all the cole crops, make sure you have rid the garden (or nearly so) of slugs and especially snails, which relish these succulent vegetables.


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