Mapping Out My Winter Garden

My Northern California climate allows me to grow a garden all winter, so I’m busy figuring out just what I want in my garden beds.

by Cyn Cady

I lay out my seed packets in approximately the arrangement I want them in my garden.
Cyn Cady

Yeah, yeah, I know: It’s really planning the fall garden, but here in Happy Hippie Land—also known by some as “Northern California with marine influence” or “Zone 9b”—there’s lots of stuff that will grow all through the winter, my beloved curly-leaf kale to name just one. Because snow and serious freezing conditions don’t affect me, this means I’ve got lots of options. So here I sit, sorting seed packets and deciding which plants will play nice with others, figuring out how much of what I want, and trying to guess what the sun will be doing a couple of months from now.

I really designed the Fortress Garden for summer crops, with raised beds placed strategically to leverage areas of full sun, morning sun only, afternoon sun and dappled shade (perfect for lettuces). But in winter, that lucky old sun drops pretty close to the big hill behind the house, and the angle of light changes dramatically, meaning some boxes get more sun and some get much less.

The temptation to just hurl fistfuls of fava bean seeds into each empty raised box and go back to bed is huge, but my kale addiction won’t allow me to quit. Although I have to say, old Hannibal Lecter was right: Fava beans are a delicious side dish, as well as a great cover crop.

But I digress. So here I am sorting my seed packets by laying them out on the coffee table in the rough configuration of my raised beds, checking the dates. (I don’t pay nearly as much attention to the expiration date on seeds as I do with milk, but if they’re more than two years out, I will probably chuck ‘em).

I’ve got a bunch of seed packets, but there are still some things I need to get, so I made little cards to act as stand-ins for cilantro, lettuce and peas. Even though I won’t be planting onions until January, I still need to reserve space, so they get a place card, too. It’s like planning a wedding except without the hysterics or the chicken a l’orange buffet.

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I file my garden woes in a
Cyn Cady

Regrets from last year—not planting enough spinach, allowing the aphids to attack my crucifers, et cetera—I note in my tickler file. A “tickler file” is not where I keep my ideas for new and more effective ways to tickle people, as you might think, but rather a set of envelopes with the seasons on them so I can organize my seeds and notes. Not very high tech, but effective.

There are also loads of planting guides online, like this groovy one, but I’ve found that there are minor climate differences even within zones and other considerations, like soil and sun path, that mess up my veggie seating chart. For example, my friend Barb The Awesome Gardener lives in the same USDA zone just a few miles inland and a couple hundred feet closer to sea level than I do, but her crops seem to ripen much earlier than mine. She’s munching on Caprese salad weeks before my tomatoes are close to ripe. So I keep my own calendar and look online for reference as needed.

And yes, I will be making some space in each bed for fava beans. It will give me an excuse to pick up a couple bottles of a nice Chianti.

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