This is the first year that I am intentionally attempting a fall/winter garden for our family. Last winter, we had available some broccoli, kale, and turnips that we didn't take the time to remove from the plot and it survived the winter weather. It wasn't getting irrigated (the pipes freeze in the winter at this elevation in San Diego) so the plants weren't anything beautiful, but they were edible.
I hated having to buy produce at the grocery store when we have so much land and all the resources to have a garden, but then again I did have a newborn. This year, we also have use of the greenhouse where we can plant cool season veggies that aren't necessarily frost proof, so this expands the variety that can be planted (eating turnips, kale and broccoli for all your meals is REALLY hard to do). We just ended up not eating as many veggies as summer time and I could really feel the difference in my energy level (or maybe it was the new tiny human in my life).
Preserving is definitely something I want to attempt, but it doesn't seem quite realistic at this time. I've never learned how to can and I feel like working inside for hours at a time with a nine to twelve month old will be setting myself up for failure. I'm not pessimistic, I just know my limits and his. Drying and freezing, however, have worked its way into our daily lives, so we will continue to do this with our bounty until the freezer is full and I run out of Mason Jars for the dried goods.
So first things first, I'm going to make a rough plan on what to plant and where. The plots that are not being planted will either get potatoes and garlic in Jan/Feb or a winter cover crop to add organic matter and nitrogen to the soil so it will be ready for the spring planting. Remember, I am definitely not an expert on all this stuff. Lots of reading, asking questions and experimentation is going to help me become an expert on MY microclimate, eventually. So please, take these ideas with a grain of salt.
After reading more about cover crops, I decided to try a winter rye and clover mix on the plot that currently is planted with all our summer veggies. Winter rye adds organic matter and the clover is a nitrogen fixer. Throughout the season, we have been rotating plant families when we do our succession plantings to help avoid disease and pests. The winter rye will be cut, then tilled under before we plant again next spring. Or this is how I hope it will go.
The winter veggies that can withstand frosts will be planted outdoors. Since I have never planted a fall/winter garden before, I will work with the average first frost date (which is usually late October) for my area to know when to start planting. I want the plants to reach maturity or close to it by the time the frost hits so they don't die. So I'll start planting most things by the first week of August.
Mulching will also be crucial to help retain water in the soil and keep the soil warm. You can use plastic mulch for a larger space, or straw. Straw is nice because it is biodegradable and doesn't break apart and have to get removed in spring like plastic mulch.
Things to think about when deciding where to plant your fall/winter garden:
-Where will I get maximum sun exposure when the days start to really shorten?
-What is the microclimate like where I will be planting? Is there lots of wind? Is the air cooler or warmer than other parts of my garden?
-Is it readily accessible from my house? Because I probably won't walk a long way to get veggies in the middle of winter for a meal, just saying...
-Do I have room for a low tunnel or cold frame set up? Probably not needed for the coast where it rarely freezes.
-Is there enough space for the crops I would like to plant? Broccoli and cabbage are planted 18-24" and offer less food than planting beets or turnips in the same amount of space.
Here is a great chart from familyfoodgarden.com of cool season and cold hardy crops:
Enjoy your winter garden and get to planting!
Four Season Harvest by: Elliot Coleman
What to Plant Now for Your Fall and Winter Garden by: Ira Wallace http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/what-to-plant-now-for-your-fall-and-winter-garden-zbcz1408.aspx
Cover Crops by: Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education