{ GARDENING }

PRODUCING A VEGGIE WINTER WONDERLAND

Eight hearty plants that flourish in spite of colder temperatures.

BY Claire Yezbak Fadden | Photos Courtesy of Bonnie Plants
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Cooler Temperatures make it a delight to be outside in the garden and also provide an advantage when it’s time to harvest your winter bounty. You’ll spend less time caring for these southern California-friendly winter crops because of the favorable cooler weather growing conditions. Depending on where they’re planted in your garden, these varieties thrive in traditional garden beds, in raised beds or even in containers.

“Plants will grow rapidly at first and gradually slow as the days become shorter and colder,” says Vincent F. Lazaneo, Urban Horticulture Advisor, Emeritus, University of California Cooperative Extension. “Destructive insects won’t be as numerous as they are in summer months,” he adds.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Let Sunshine In. Most vegetables need full sun – at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. They also require a steady supply of moisture and nutrients from the soil. According to the experts at Bonnie Plants, you can help ensure your plants get both by mixing a two-inch layer of compost into the soil. “For best results, also mix a complete vegetable fertilizer high in phosphorous into the soil before planting,” suggests Lazaneo.

Water, Water. Plants need an inch of moisture per week, either through rain or supplemental watering. San Diegans are aware of the state’s drought conditions, but with the promised rains anticipated this winter from the El Niño effect, supplemental watering should be minimal.

Start With Transplants. Varieties, like the ones from Bonnie Plants, can be found in retail garden centers. These transplants are six weeks or older when you put them into the ground, giving you a head start. So you will begin harvesting much sooner than if you start from seed.

Pesky Pests. Some bugs to be on the lookout for include: cabbage loopers, imported cabbageworms, slugs, cabbage root maggots, aphids, small green caterpillars, flea beetles, harlequin bugs, slugs and grasshoppers.

Don’t Fear Frost. When frost threatens, cover plants with floating row cover, cold frame or a cloche. Or you can grow fall veggies in a container and move the pot to a protected location on frosty nights.

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WINTER VEGETABLE GARDEN

Here’s a list of fast-growing, cold-hardy transplant crops that are ideal for winter vegetable gardening:

1. Kale — This nutritious, leafy green is a vigorous producer that endures winter easily, even in very cold climates. Cut the outer leaves so that the center can continue growing. Set transplants 12 inches apart; matures in 45-plus days.

2. Collard Greens — Similar to kale, these leafy greens offer a larger, stronger, sweet cabbage-like flavor. Leaves taste best when young. Set transplants 18-24 inches apart; matures in 45-plus days.

3. Romaine Lettuce — Rich in fiber, vitamin C and beta-carotene, this green is an especially good vegetable for heart health. Set transplants 10-18 inches apart. The leaves mature in 21 days, the head in 75 days.

4. Broccoli — Popular, productive and easy to grow, the florets/
stalks are high in fiber and calcium. Set transplants 18-26 inches apart; matures in 55-65 days.

5. Mustard Greens — Offering spicy hot leaves, this is a very fast-growing, nutritious vegetable. These cruciferous greens always taste sweeter when nipped by frost. Space plants 8-15 inches apart; expect yield in 45 days.

6. Cabbage — Grows large, round, blue-green heads. This dense-leaved vegetable is especially high in beta-carotene, vitamins C and K, and fiber. Set transplants 24 inches apart; plants yield in 45 days.

7. Arugula — This fast-growing leafy green is a superfood for your bones. Its peppery-tasting leaves are great for salads or gourmet recipes. They are especially high in vitamins A, C and K. Set transplants 12-18 inches apart; matures in 10-45 days.

8. Leeks — Prized by gourmets for their mild flavor, leeks are frost-tolerant in all but the coldest hardiness zones. Plant in a sunny spot in fertile and well-drained soil, and space 6 inches apart. Transplants will mature in 75-120 days.

If you put these practices into place this season, you’ll be off to the right start, and your garden is sure to produce a bountiful winter harvest. Preparation is key, reminds Lazaneo, but the rewards are a healthier, more productive garden and fresh food that tastes better than anything you can buy at the store.