Easy Winter Gardening the Garden Slob Way
Winter Gardening for Lazy People
I have a secret garden. It lives alongside my "real" garden... the one I tend with loving care and exquisite attention to detail. My secret garden is like my real garden's ugly sister.
Like ugly sisters everywhere, my secret garden does a lot of work and asks very little in return, while her beautiful sibling lazes about in the spotlight, extracting payment in blood, sweat and tears for every favor granted.
In my "real" garden, I am a gardener. I painstakingly plan her layout and monitor her health. Everything I plant in her is carefully selected and placed with both the plant's needs and my own aesthetic preferences in mind. She lives in front of my house, displayed for the world to see.
My secret garden lives in back of my house. Her layout is determined partially by the amount of sun each patch receives, but mostly by my wild and reckless whims. Most years, one of her corners sports a wild tangle of bizarrely mixed vegetables and flowers in a vague, undefined hill. This hill is created as I select seedlings started indoors for planting, tossing seedlings that don't make the grade in the corner of the yard. In my secret garden, I am the Garden Slob, and winter is my time to shine.
All photographs by the author.
Fava beans with gently rotting squash in the backgroundIn fall, the pretty sister I've been wooing since spring grants me the favour of her harvest. Her fruits are bountiful and beautiful, and then they are gone. As winter settles in, she sinks into a months-long slumber.
Now the Garden Slob goes to "work"... the only effort that will go into my ugly secret garden all year. This year, that effort was as follows: I cleared the dead summer garden plants from the old dryer drum in the back yard, stuck 5 fava bean seeds about an inch into the soil with my finger, and scattered a small handful of lettuce seeds on top. That's it. No pruning, no fertilizing... no watering!
In the summer garden, the lettuce would be thinned, the beans watered and staked. In the winter garden, beans sprawl and dangle as they will, lettuce is thinned when I make a salad, and everything gets watered when, and only when, water falls out of the sky.
Will the beans provide... well... beans? Probably. Most years they bear tons of good fava beans. That's not their primary function, though. They're doing a more important job.
Beans in general, and fava beans in particular, fix nitrogen in the soil. My ugly secret garden is hard at work, preparing this makeshift container for her beautiful sister's arrival in spring. In the background, more dead squash rots quietly into the soil, preparing to bring forth children when the soil warms.
My Winter Fava Beans and Lettuce
Heavenly results in a lazy and frugal winter container garden.These fava beans and green leaf lettuce, planted on a whim, have been watered a grand total of two times from September to March. Helped along by a very mild winter and light, warm rains, my fava beans are now covered in flowers, and my lettuce grows faster than our household can scarf down salads.
It's looking like we'll get a good crop of fava beans before these plants are pulled up, in a few months, to make room for summer's veggies. By then, the fava beans will have completed their primary task of fixing loads of nitrogen in the soil, making this container a perfect home for my hungry summer crops!
In the background, my ugly secret garden quietly grows. If time permits, perhaps I toss a few seeds or a handful of compost at her. If not, no worries! She'll still put forth abundant new growth. Why? Because the Garden Slob does not remove last winter's dead plants. The Garden Slob leaves the last round of ugly secret garden fruit rotting on the vine, where its decomposing flesh provides ample nutrients for the new seeds sleeping inside.
Most Squash Will Reseed From Rotting Fruit
Heirloom seeds are best, as the seeds from plants grown from hybrid seeds can produce unpredictable offspring. Have a bunch of fruit from hybrid plants? Try letting it reseed anyway. What's the worst that could happen? It's not like you put any extra work into it. That's how the Garden Slob rolls.
A striking squash, Triamble reseeds easily from rotting fruit.
Delicata is so pretty, and the flesh is sweet. Use in recipes that call for butternut.
Spaghetti-like strands of squash flesh are a hit with the kids.
Lettuce and Fava Beans - The Winter Garden's Dynamic Duo
Lettuce grows unaided through a mild winter, and fava beans fix nitrogen in the soil, preparing your container for a fresh round of summer plants come spring. Fava beans are a great winter crop in any garden. You can plant and tend them with the care you'd show for any garden vegetable for a bountiful crop, or mix them with some compost and scatter them wildly about your garden, ignoring them thereafter. They'll grow. They may produce less than they would with proper care (though this is by no means a given), but they'll be enriching your soil all winter long whether you put any effort into them or not. That's right: Garden Slob.
Great lettuce for salads, and the baby greens are so tender and perfect.
Fava beans offer lush foliage and pretty flowers in winter, and beans in spring.
Gardening on a larger lot? Fava beans make a wonderful winter ground cover. While fixing nitrogen in the soil, they will also help prevent erosion from rain.
Is there a corner of your garden that's left to fend for itself? Perhaps an area where you half-heartedly toss some seeds on the ground twice a year, or enjoy volunteers that spring forth from the remains of last year's crop? Tell us about YOUR inner garden slob!