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Put the garden to bed for winter? Why on earth would I want to stop harvesting? By picking the ‘right’ crops, growing them at the ‘right’ time, and protecting them with the ‘right’ season extenders, I have learned that my zone 5B garden can continue to crop throughout late autumn and winter.
Late summer and early autumn is a busy time for me with transplanting and seeding for the winter garden, but by now, most tasks are finished. By late November, I’ll give the garden beds and cold frames one last watering (unless Mother Nature pitches in and does it for me!), and now that we’ve finally had our first frost, it’s time to let the season extenders do their job and protect my veggies.
By late October, my cold frames are packed with hardy salad greens, root crops, stem veggies (like leeks) and aromatic herbs. I mulch the area around the frames with straw or pine needles to help suppress weeds and keep things looking tidy.
I have a thing for Italian parsley. Thanks to its cold hardiness, it’s a prime candidate for the fall/winter garden, but I also think it has a superior flavour and texture to curly parsley, and I use it with abandon in salads (particularly in my favourite couscous salad – yum!), wraps, soups and dressings.
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Every year I test over a dozen types of new or new-to-me edibles. This year, ‘Peppermint’ Swiss Chard was a standout. More than one garden visitor asked me, “Does it taste like peppermint?” Wishful thinking! But the vividly streaked pink and white stems certainly make it a variety that is at home in both a vegetable bed as well as an ornamental garden.
A cloche is a simple but effective measure of protection for light frost, particularly on compact plants like lettuce, dwarf tomatoes, and small herbs. I have a stack that I keep piled near the garden entrance to be placed over vulnerable plants when frost is in the forecast.
I love the rounded form of nasturtium leaves, but especially after a frost when the pattern of the veins is emphasized.
‘Pineapple’ alpine strawberries made my top 3 list of new edibles that I grew in 2014. These fabulous berries are produced on extremely vigorous plants which I started from seed in late March. They were transplanted into the garden in early June and by late August, we began to harvest the 2 1/2 cm (1-inch) long pale, cream-coloured fruits. Flavour? Strawberry, with a pineapple-fruity undertone. Absolutely delicious and very popular with the kids.
As you may expect, my fall garden is also filled with kale – ‘Red Russian’, ‘Dinosaur’, ‘Winterbor’, ‘Redbor’ and ‘Rainbow Lacinato’. We do enjoy kale year round, but it is at its best after several hard frosts have sweetened the leaves.
I buy row cover by the roll, laying the gauzy fabric overtop my garden beds to protect from frost. The covers are secured with rocks, logs or row cover staples to prevent them from blowing away in autumn winds. If the covers are to be left in place for longer than a few nights, I float them on mini hoops so that they fabric will not adhere to the foliage of my plants after a heavy frost.