Kristi Stone is a student of all things modern homesteading, and is living the dream on her 1 acre hobby farm. Her favorite things to do include growing and preserving food for her family, breeding and raising Nigerian Dwarf goats, studying and using herbs, and running her hobby farm in sunny Southern California. Kristi writes about all of these topics and more on her blog, Stone Family Farmstead.
While most are partial to a spring garden, the possibilities of a fall and winter garden feel so much more promising for me. So much can go into the ground in the fall, and much of what is in the ground in winter can be harvested over and over again. Being from Inland Southern California, the heat can be volatile on plants, but during the fall and winter, it’s smooth sailing for tender plant leaves.
From beautiful lettuces and cabbages, to an assortment of root veggies, fall and winter gardening have so much to offer our menu plans beyond dinner. The possibilities for eating and juicing are endless, and if you happen to have small livestock, adding fall and winter veggies to their menu will keep them healthier, and give them some variety in their diet.
Some of the plants I discuss here are not actually annuals, but they are able to be grown as annuals, and most often are for the home gardener. They will be ready during fall, but unless planted early in the season, they will more likely be harvested throughout the winter. Many of these plants are “cut and come again” which gives us gardeners much more bang for our grocery buck.
1. Beets are super easy to grow and provide lovely young greens for a salad or juicing, as well as root vegetables that you can eat raw, juice, pickle, or preserve for future meals. These are actually biennial, but they are often grown as an annual and will work beautifully when planted in that way. They need full sun, even soil moisture, and well-draining soil, and really not much else. Plant between August and September for a late October or late November harvest. If you prefer the greens, harvest them young to add into salads, or to juice. Harvest bulbs when they are less than 2 inches in diameter, or you risk them becoming woody and not very appetizing. (55-60 day maturity)
2. Broccoli takes a little more effort to grow and are almost impossible to keep aphids from nesting inside the heads if no pesticides are being used. That still shouldn’t deter you from adding it into your garden because the returns on nutrition and flavor are fabulous. Floating row covers can be of great benefit to your broccoli plants, keeping the aphid infestation at a minimum. Plant in late summer, fall, or winter for harvest in winter or early spring. Harvest flower heads before the buds begin to open (about 5-6 inches down the stalk). More clusters will grow from side branches for a later harvest. (50-100 day maturity)
3. Cabbage, also a biennial, is one of those crops whose return is huge for one planting. However, pests love to chew the leaves until they look like lace. Still, one large head of cabbage can be used for a few meals, and home grown cabbage definitely beats store bought in flavor hands down. Can be eaten raw, juiced, sliced and frozen, fermented to make sauerkraut, or used fresh for stir fries and other yummy dishes..Plant anytime in the fall for a winter harvest. Harvest leaf cabbage once there are 8 or more leaves by cutting off the individual outside leaves. For head cabbages, harvest the entire heads all at once, and before they start to split or flower stalks begin to grow. (80-180 day maturity)
4. Carrots can be grown in ground, in a raised bed, or in a container. Regardless of which variety you choose, you will want to make sure to choose a growing situation that will accommodate the length of the carrots you choose. Great for eating fresh, steaming, sauteeing with other veggies, in stir fries, juicing home canning, in salads–the uses are endless. Plant colorful varieties for additional vitamins and gorgeous color on your dinner plate. Leave one carrot plant in the ground to collect seeds for this biennial plant. Plant in the fall for a winter harvest, and better yet, plant successively so you can harvest continually between September through March for an ongoing harvest for at least half the year! (70-80 day maturity)
5. Lettuce is one of my very favorites to grow, due to the fact that it’s so easy to grow, it practically does all the work itself. The tiny seeds sprout so well that you won’t want to plant them too close together. If you do, however, don’t worry, just make sure to cut the tiny seedlings off at soil level when you go to thin them, rather than pulling them out of the soil. This will help you to avoid damaging the lettuce seedlings that you are leaving in to grow. Use the tiny seedlings on top of salads or in sandwiches, or enjoy them raw. Plant 2-3 different varieties for a lovely, well-rounded salad plate. (45-100 day maturity)
6. Radish are another very easy plant to grow, they practically grow themselves. They need almost nothing from you, save for water, which makes them a no brainer for the fall and winter garden. From the small red varieties to the long carrot-like daikon radishes, all are equally fantastic on your dinner plate. Great on your salads, but another popular way to use them is roasted, as a replacement for potatoes if you avoid them in your daily diet. Sow the smaller, red varieties every week for a successive harvest. (22-70 day maturity)
While this is not a complete list of all the goodness that can be planted in fall and harvested in winter, within this list is the possibility to bring a range of offerings to your family’s table if you choose a few varieties of each type of seed.
If you are new to gardening, these plants are a great place to start! Try planting in a few different areas in the garden to see where they do best, and which seed varieties do best in you garden’s microclimate. Keep notes as to what does well, and where, and use that information to continue your gardening adventure year after year!