Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest


Living Within the Season: Planting Winter Greens

I feel like I should whisper it . . .  winter. It’s summer, but dark green veggies are in the wings awaiting winter performances. The planting of winter greens is a seasonal ritual embedded in the earth’s constant transition. Living and eating along with the seasons should be, probably is, part of our genetic construction, but we don’t like to think about it in August. It’s not about survival anymore, but a leaning toward living more sustainably.

sunflower brocoli-2

A soothsayer would come in handy, someone to proclaim the most auspicious day for getting the little starts into the ground. It gets tricky. Plant too soon and if it’s a warm fall plants mature and flower before winter even arrives. Plant too late and unexpected early cold can harm immature plants. Late July through August is usually about right, but as with all gardening the intrusion of unfavorable weather is possible, unexpectedly hot or cool.

Last weekend we planted arugula, spinach and mesclun seeds directly in the ground for fall crops; we’ll get broccoli, chard and rutabaga starts going right away and transplant them in a few weeks; our friend John has kale starts and will share with us – Siberian kale is our main winter garden vegetable;  planted in early spring, brussels sprouts are well on their way and will be ready for harvest in November; winter’s lettuce crops will be sown in September along with a crop of over-wintering beets; we should have started cauliflower in July and hope to find starts at the Tilth Harvest Fair on September 8th.  

Seattle Celebrates Local Food and Urban Farming at 25th Annual Harvest Fair
Where else can you press apples into cider and learn to make cheese while listening to live music outdoors? Seattle Tilth’s Harvest Fair invites you to do all that and more at Seattle’s local food and urban farming festival! The 25th annual Harvest Fair is on Saturday, September 8, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Meridian Park.
Seattle Tilth’s Harvest Fair
Saturday, September 8
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Meridian Park
4649 Sunnyside Ave

*And more!

kale in the garden


Once they’re off to a good start little attention is required. They grow, produce their hardy leaves and stand strong through most PNW winters. The brassicas – kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts – will last through the winter and improve in flavor when exposed to frost. We’ll eat chard and kale leaves all winter long, and in late winter/early spring harvest their florets which are as good as the primary vegetable itself. Rutabagas are a treat, usually ready December/January.

brassica-florets-2 rutabagas-1 rutabagas-2

Brassicas (coles) improve with frost, but winter lettuce? Forget it. When it frosts, lettuce is done for. A trick: when frost is predicted we cover our lettuce plot with old wool blankets. It works. With luck and wool blankets a fall lettuce crop can often be enjoyed into December and longer.

The Seattle Tilth garden guide suggests sowing the following vegetables in July: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chicory, endive, kale, rutabagas, scallions, collard, endive, and daikon radishes. In August: cilantro, endive, lettuce, swiss chard, turnips, cabbage for spring, corn salad, mustards, Walla Walla sweet onions. In September: cabbage, Chinese cabbage, lettuce (winter varieties), mustards, arugula, spinach. Territorial Seed is an excellent resource for seed and garden paraphernalia.

It’s difficult to remember to plant these guys in the midst of a July/August heat wave. If you want some but didn’t start seedlings in time, local Farmers Markets and garden nurseries usually have starts available which can be planted in September. Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair on Saturday September 8th will be a good source for winter veggie starts. Call their Garden hotline and a real person answers, love that. Might be limited quantities of some starts, so get there early.


kale-chard-in-snow-1 kale-chard-in-snow-2

Kale and chard both survived last year’s snowy cold snap, the kale more readily than the chard which took 6 or 8 weeks to recover and grow new leaves.

If you plant just one winter green, I would say go with kale, one of three vegetables my centenarian grandmother grew after she’d finally given up her large garden (the other two, tomatoes and zucchini). It’s easy, hardy through winter, and provides healthy fare for the table. It can be added by the handful to many dishes, soups, eggs, rice, risotto, pasta. That, along with bowls of steamed kale with garlic, vinegar and maybe bacon, could keep you glowing all winter long.

Living Within the Seasons is an updated post from August 2009.

*  Workshops and demos include yoga for gardeners, fermenting foods, natural dyes, seed saving, making mozzarella cheese, edible mushrooms and cooking demonstrations. Food donations are being collected for the food bank at the BEET Hunger booth.
Activities include:
§    Raffle to win a chicken coop, beekeeping starter kit or year’s supply of Organic Valley milk
§    Seed swap
§    Cider pressing
§    Urban livestock area
§    DIY herb crowns
§    Barter hosted by Backyard Barter (11 a.m.-1 p.m.)
§    Kids crafts in the children’s garden
§    Organic farmer’s market
§    Sustainable vendors
§    Kids’ parade
§    Live music from Slap and Tickle, Mostly Water, Creepin’ Critters, Holy Crows, Bucharest Drinking Team and Nyamuziwa Marimba

Tagged as: , , ,

6 Responses »

  1. Great post. It’s hard to find that sweet spot between planting too early and planting too late. Last year and this year I started seeds at different times in hopes that some would make it to winter and beyond in prime condition.

  2. Much as I don’t want to think about winter, you’re right on the planting…. I put in my kale seeds as well as some fall peas, chard, and winter carrots last week.
    Last year my kale and chard died well before the winter set in, as early as late October/early November…. After hearing about all those gardeners with greens even after the snow started made me want to try again. Maybe this year it’ll work! Any tips?

  3. MC, winters are so much colder on the east coast – that’s the main thing. PNW winters are on the milder side, though last year was unusually cold and snowy for us. I wonder if the wool blanket trick would give you a little more time with your kale.

  4. I planted Kale starts in August and something immediately started eating it. In November it still looks like swiss cheese. any idea what was doing the damage and is there any non chemical response ?

  5. Mike, I’ll send a bit more info in an email. Let me just say that it’s worth the effort to have kale available and you can probably blame the slugs, though there are a couple of other possibilities.
    Slug patrol is our best organic defense in the garden, at night with a flashlight and a yogurt container of beer in hand, we pluck them off the plants – including kale in late summer and early fall – and let them drown contentedly.
    Even so, some of our delicious mature kale have slug holes. We rinse it and eat it anyway.

  6. Sally, what an info packed post! Thanks so much for the listings and planting time frames. We are enjoying the harvesting of several of our summer crops out of our tiny garden, but I know we can put the beds to use into the fall and winter. You saved me a bunch of research as to what to plant now and over the next few weeks. We have learned that we don’t need a huge plot of soil to grow quite an abundance of lovely foods, and your encouragement to continue planting makes us realize we do have an advantage here in the PNW for our milder winters. The next seasons will continue our experiment on where to plant what…the upper garden or the lower terrace? What rewards for our efforts!!
    Thanks also for the info about the Tilth Harvest Fair. Hope to make it!
    Abundant Blessings!