Saturday, December 11, 2010

Winter Vegetable Gardening on the Coast

There are those of us who just can't give up the taste of fresh produce from the garden.  Nevermind the December storms, pouring rain, gale-force winds... we have to get our fix.

By now nearly all of my outside raised beds in the garden have been put to rest with cover crop and a blanket of straw.  Perennial herbs and pathways are newly dressed with wood-chip mulch, and tender hanging baskets have been brought inside.  Still, there are opportunities for winter vegetables with a little extra effort.

The enchanted Swiss chard forest in December
Normally this time of year I would still have large kale plants, which after frost come into their glory with sweetness.  Unfortunately this year the kale patch had to be rotated at just the wrong time due to poor planning and I didn't manage to get the winter crop started on time.  Other brassicas fared better, with my broccoli and cauliflower just finishing a few weeks ago (late November).

A star of the garden this past year has been 'Bright Lights' chard, with another bumper crop this year, and quite a few of the volunteer seedlings carefully transplanted to the front and side yards for use in the "edible landscape."  If you want to add edibles to your manicured front yard, this selection is outstanding for color, structure and it holds throughout the year.  When it finally bolts to seed there is a spectacular tall (over 5') spike that rises and produces thousands of seeds... so cut that and lay it down where you want a new patch.

Garlic has been planted for next season, and the herbs all neatly trimmed with a final harvest in late fall going to the drying shed.  There are still a few late artichokes on my established plants, and the foliage adds a striking evergreen texture to the front yard landscape.

The tomato house - center lid left in place
Access to the tomato house via end panel
Finally I wanted to share some options for off-season cold frames.  Nearly every ambitious vegetable gardener will know already about season-extension by the use of these adaptable little structures, merely a rectangular frame with some sort of removable glazing for the top. They are useful in starting early or keeping late many marginal crops like baby lettuces or Asian greens, and critical for transitioning plants that were started inside in the spring.

Small cold frame by peach tree - doing temporary duty storing straw
We have identified a few sunny spots in our tight city landscape where we custom-built frames from reclaimed materials, and another is used in the garden for growing tomatoes.  You will note from the pictures the variety of design, depending on how it's used.
Gull-wing cold frame - designed to fit SW facing nook

Important on the coast is to provide a way to secure the lid for high winds.  The last thing you want is an airborne lid crashing through your neighbor's window... or some other tragedy.  Also be sure to create a sloped lid on your frame, so that more light enters from the south.  Remember the sun is at a very low angle at our 45-degrees-north latitude in winter; a box with equal sides will create too much shade inside for your plants.  If you create a very tall frame like our tomato-house, be sure there is access on the sides for planting, harvesting, etc.  It will be impossible to manage just from the top.
Detail of lid construction - note angled top edge

Additional resources - great books I use on this topic include Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest and Gardening Under Cover: A Northwest Guide to Solar Greenhouses, Cold Frames, and Cloches


  1. I wish I owned that tomato-house. It would keep the blight off nicely. Do you suffer much with blight over there in Oregon? Here in the UK we get a bad dose of blight about 2 years in every 3, and growing tomatoes outdoors is really chancy.

  2. Hi Mark, we can have blight here in Oregon, but since we tend to have dry summers and early fall when they are ripening, it's not as much a problem as in other parts of the country with humid summers. Mostly here it comes down to proper watering technique (keep foliage dry, water in am) and spacing for adequate ventilation. I generally do a pretty thorough pruning and tie the vines up to get the best air circulation. Look for blight-resistant varieties if possible-- here's a blog that may help.

  3. These days I normally grow a variety called Ferline, which is fairly blight-resistant, but even that one will succumb if the blight is severe. I have also tried Legend, which is blight-resistant too, but I have never found it to crop well.

  4. So many coldframes, incredible! I wish I had more space in my backyard. They look great

  5. Moved to our new home on the coast just north of Newport, OR. Retired from central valley of CA. Assume it is too late now to grow winter vegetables, from your article. Have a large 2-shelf kitchen garden window. Is it too late to grow anything there also?