Growing vegetables in our Murphy, North Carolina mountains is always an adventure. You’ll encounter wild weather swings, alternating drought and monsoon conditions, and ravenous deer who munch their way through your carefully cultivated garden.
But sometimes, it all comes together and you get an impressive summer harvest of tomatoes, peppers, squash, and lots more tasty vegetables. While you’re basking in the moment, however, note that the fall and winter gardening season is right on the doorstep. With some initial preparation, and careful timing of your plantings, you can enjoy fresh vegetables right up until springtime.
Start Your Fall & Winter Crops Now
Let’s face it: there’s nothing quite like crisp, crunchy fresh vegetables in late fall and winter. However, growing the broccoli, spinach, carrots and other cold-weather crops will take some time. So, get them started now, recommends Rich Woynicz, a Wake County, North Carolina master gardener.
However, your garden is likely chock full of bright red tomatoes, and you can’t give them away fast enough. Your peppers and squash might still be producing as well. In other words, your summer vegetables are still going like gangbusters, so there’s no room to plant fall and winter crops.
So, start easily transplanted vegetables indoors under adequate lights, and plant the seedlings in the garden a few weeks later, when the summer veggies are finished. And, if you do have available garden space for seeds, realize that some of these winter-hardy plants don’t adapt well to hot summer sun. To minimize the potential for disaster, begin your direct-seed plants in September, when there isn’t as much direct sunlight and temperatures should be slightly cooler.
Ramp Up the Row Covers for Winter
Here in Murphy, North Carolina, our first frost usually occurs sometime in October; and can happen anytime until late April or early May. In fact, our area’s official frost date is May 10. After that, it should be safe to place spring and summer vegetable plants in the ground.
Right now, though, you want to keep your fall and winter crops frost free, so get the supplies to build several sturdy fabric row covers. These durable covers are available in varied weights for different seasons. They are true workhorses, keeping the frost and snow off your plants while also warming the soil beneath them. And, sometimes warmer soil can help your covered vegetables to survive some pretty harsh conditions.
Watch for Cold-Hardy Garden Pests
In a perfect world, all the garden pests would head south for winter, or at least leave your vegetable garden alone. Although most insects are dormant during very cold weather, you may find some stray caterpillars and other hardy bugs munching away under the row covers. If it’s an excessively wet or warm winter, fungi could also make an appearance in your garden. By researching solutions to these problems now, you’ll be ready if (when) they occur.
Harvest Those Tasty Winter Vegetables
If you plan to grow collards, kale, and lettuce, remember that you can harvest them throughout the year. Other cold-hardy vegetables include cabbage, carrots, potatoes, radishes, and spinach. However, remember that you’ll still be harvesting some of these vegetables when you need garden space for your spring and summer vegetable plants. So, make your planting decisions accordingly.
Give Your Garden Some Rest
On the other hand, maybe you’ve had enough gardening for the year. You started lots of vegetable plants from seed, transplanted them after the frost date, and added a slew of seedlings as well. You weeded the garden throughout the spring and summer, often dripping sweat and picking bugs off the plants as you traveled along the rows.
So, give yourself (and your soil) a break for several months. Instead of a fall and winter garden, plant a cover crop that will add valuable nitrogen to your soil. Or, enrich the soil with compost. Either way, you’ll supply your spring and summer garden with the nutrient-rich soil it will need to produce that vegetable bounty.
Get Your Soil Tested Frequently
Finally, don’t forget the importance of regular garden soil testing. By getting an objective analysis of your soil’s composition, you’ll know the proper additives required to create good vegetable growing conditions.
Getting the soil sample is easy. Just pick up a soil sample box at the Cherokee County Extension Office in Murphy, North Carolina. Carefully read the directions on the box and/or the form. Then, fill the box with soil, and complete the form.
Mail the package to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Agronomic Division in Raleigh, North Carolina. Depending on the time of year, there may be a small fee for this service.
When you receive the soil sample results, ask a local master gardener to help you interpret the data. They’ll also provide ideas on enriching the soil for next year’s vegetable garden.
The Poltrock Team – REMAX Mountain Properties – Murphy NC – www.ILoveMurphy.com – Call us Toll Free at 1-866-Murphy-NC or 1-866-687-7496 – Murphy’s #1 Real Estate Team