Cool Weather Crops | A Sustainably Flourishing Series presented by Dan Ballard
In late September we were joined by local farmer and landscaper Mr. Dan Ballard for our final Sustainably Flourishing 2017 on winter gardening. Read on to see tips that he shared, and get inspired to get your winter garden going and growing!
The majority of beginning gardeners have only heard of the growing season that corresponds to warmer weather, but there is more seasonality to gardening than just the spring and summer. The cool season is actually a longer season to grow in, and there are certain plants that thrive in cool weather, such as leafy green vegetables. In order to have a thriving cool-weather garden, one must be aware of four key categories for a successful garden—soil, water, air and sunlight, and plant selection and biodiversity.
The Environment for your Garden | Soil
Soil is not just dirt; it has to have particular properties in order for plants to thrive. Most people familiar with gardening in Georgia will know that most of the soil found naturally is Georgia red clay. While clay is not a bad thing (in fact, it is important for some native soil to remain) too much clay needs to be balanced out. Soil has three primarily properties: sand, silt, and clay. These three components in a proper mixture creates the ideal soil for plants to grow.
Dan shared that the secret “super soil recipe” for veggie, annual color and perennial beds is 3 parts native soil, 2 parts compost, 1 part granite sand, a little natural fertilizer. That mixture should go down to about 12 inches below the surface of the bed. For container garden soils, the “recipe” Dan recommended was 50% potting mix without fertilizer and 50% compost with natural fertilizer added. The fertilizer that Dan recommended was Espoma Natural Fertilizer.
The Environment for your Garden | Water
Water is essential to plant growth. The granite sand portion of the soil mixture is included in the mix to aid in water drainage. Beware that overwatering can be as deadly as under watering. Plants should be watered in the morning, because they absorb water from their roots during the day. For winter gardens, it is important to water before it freezes, because winter plants can use that water to make an antifreeze substance.
The Environment for your Garden | Air/Sunlight
As Georgia is in the northern hemisphere, sunlight naturally falls on the south side. When planting a garden, keep in mind the angle of the sun and place your plants so they get the life bringing energy they need. Have your plants in the ground as soon as possible so you can have mature crops by Thanksgiving, which is when the length of days is reduced. Come December, there are only 8 hours of sun a day.
The Environment for your Garden | Plant Selection/Biodiversity
Plant selection is one of the most fun parts of winter gardening, as you get to plant the vegetables that you like to eat the most! Different plants thrive in different parts of the year, and those plants that thrive in the cool season in Georgia include: Hakurei turnips (mature in 30-40 days), collards, mustards, kale (Tuscano and red Russian varieties), lettuce, radishes (watermelon), spinach, arugula, carrots (mature in 90 days), broccoli, garlic, shallots (mature in 9 months), and herbs such as parsley. Review the details about the specific plants you plant to know when they are ready for harvesting, and learn to recognize the signs. For instance your root vegetables are mature when the root starts pushing itself out of the ground.
There are a variety of locations to get started with your winter garden. Dan suggested the following locations to collect the supplies and plants you need: Johnny’s seeds (web), Wylde center, Farmer D’s, Home Depot, Lowes, and your local CSA Share.