Winter is in full force at the Renee’s Garden Trial garden. The weather is cold and the heavy rains continue. This is the time of year when I do a lot of garden planning. I keep a detailed database of all of the trial varieties and I already have about 200 varieties on the list for the 2010 sprng/summer season. Our database helps me to keep an updated inventory of both the seed samples that I have, and what I still need to request from our seed producers.
Renee and I browse a lot of producers offering lists and want to grow everything that catches our eye. But we have to balance that with reality and space constraints. To make a sensible plan, I have to figure out how many feet I need to grow of each variety, and then plot it out on my illustrated maps of the trial garden spaces. This gives me a real sense of how we will use the space, and what I have to work with. The garden mapping is also necessary so that we can rotate our crops appropriately. For example, we do not want to grow tomatoes or any brassicas in the same place year after year because soil diseases may accumulate.
Our garden is in good shape despite the weather. Last fall in the “In the Trial Garden” section of our monthly e-newsletter, we featured the cover crop blend that we sow in all of our empty raised beds. Our soil is extremely sandy and porous, so a good cover crop to protect it and help build organic matter is very important in the winter season . I use is a mix of oat grass, vetch, bell beans and peas. The vetch, beans and peas help by gathering nitrogen into their roots, to benefit the soil. The thick roots of the oat grass hold on to the soil and protect it from erosion. The cover crop is now mature and surviving happily in the cold wet weather. Instead of tilling the cover crop into the soil in spring, we pull the plants and quickly compost them. When the plants have broken down in finished compost, we add it back into the garden to take advantage of all its benefits.
In the beds that were not given over to cover crops, there is still much to feast on at this time of year. Our northern CA trial garden is in USDA Zone 7/8. A cold winter night here is usually no lower than 22-25°F and ground does not freeze hard. Cool weather crops that were sown last fall to overwinter are still standing mature in the ground for us to finish harvesting them: Napa and Green Cabbage, Carrots, 10 different varieties of Lettuce, Spinach, Pak Choy and Kale. There are also Leek, Onion, and Beet seedlings that will mature once the weather starts to warm up in the spring. We also have many varieties of fall -sown flowers sitting patiently in seedling stage that will start to grow and mature when the weather starts to warm. Sweet Peas look so delicate, yet we have found that they can really tolerate frost when they are small seedlings. There are eight varieties of Poppies that we had direct sown into the garden beds that germinated at the start of the rains. Once they begin to grow vigorously, we will thin out the seedlings to give them adequate room to mature. We are looking forward to this spring when there will be a fabulous show of colorful flowers!