You would have been completely justified in comparing me to a broody hen at this point. Spritzing with water three to four times a day, covering and uncovering to keep the seedlings warm and rotating the trays to ensure good light coverage only briefly describes my actions.
A long-planned trip occurred during my “broody” period and I was nervous about passing the reins to my husband. He did well. I do not think that he had to make an emergency run to the nursery to replace any plants.
Upon returning from my trip, the thinning transpired without a hitch. However, I could not bear to waste the thinnings so I teased them apart and planted them as well. When the workshop date finally arrived, I was like a new mother, so proud of my baby kale.
If you would like to try your hand at a winter garden, here are some tips. Choosing the correct plants is the first step. Plants like corn, peppers and cucumbers are killed by frost; they are for summer gardens only.
Plant cool-season crops so they mature in spring or fall. Some of these crops are damaged by frost; others are not. The hardier options can survive temperatures of 25°F to 28°F.Edibles in this category include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, English peas, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, mustard greens, parsley, radish, spinach and turnips. Frost actually makes collards, spinach, cabbage and kale sweeter.
Semi-hardy plants prefer temperatures between 40°'F and 50°F and tolerate light freezes for a few hours. These vegetable include beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, endive, potatoes, lettuce, radicchio, rutabaga, salsify and Swiss chard. Most cool-weather edibles do not like temperatures above 75°F. With heat, they tend to bolt, which means they stop producing and set seed.
Keep winter's short days in mind. Make sure your winter garden gets at least five hours of sunlight. Remove weeds and any other unwanted vegetation. Break up the soil and amend with compost or planting mix if needed.
Starting seedlings in smaller pots, as opposed to direct-seeding them in the ground, gives you more control over their care and progress. You don't need to be as neurotic as I was. Once planted, seedlings should not be disturbed and should be kept moist. Root vegetables like beets and turnips do not transplant well and prefer to be direct-seeded. Thin them as they sprout. They need room to spread and grow.
Use a balanced fertilizer and follow package directions.Check the forecast. If it is going to be partly cloudy with mild temperatures, that's a good time to transplant. If hot days are forecast, postpone until the weather cools.
Keep seedlings watered until nature takes over. A thick layer of mulch keeps roots cool, conserves water and controls weeds. Protect young seedlings from our Indian summer heat. I use cute paper umbrellas but floating row covers work as well.
Watch for pests, whether it's the family cat that loves the feel of carrot seedlings under its tummy or slugs and snails. The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources web page has abundant information on how to control or correct common gardening problems. I laughed when one of my friends said that she does not wear her glasses when she harvests to avoid seeing aphids on the plants.
I am still a vegetable-gardening beginner but I highly recommend the experience. I get so much satisfaction from watching a tiny seed grow into a productive plant.
Garden Tour: The Master Gardeners of Napa County invite you to attend their sixth garden tour, “Down the Garden Path,” on Sunday, September 13. On this self-guided educational tour, you will see seven gardens owned by Master Gardeners in and around the City of Napa. These gardens illustrate how Napa County Master Gardeners use University of California research-based horticultural information to develop and maintain their own gardens. Tickets: $30 advance / $35 day of event. Purchase tickets here: http://bit.ly/1fqLJZe. Or you can purchase tickets at the Master Gardener office (address below). For more information, call 707-253-4143.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will present a workshop on “Cool-Season Vegetables” on Saturday, August 22, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Discover the joy of a vegetable harvest from your own garden in fall, winter, and early spring before those summer vegetables would even think of growing. Topics include soil preparation, watering, fertilizing, harvesting and managing pests.Online registration (credit card only)Mail-in registration (cash or check only). The Napa Master Gardeners are on Facebook.