December is a good time to review your last year’s garden and plan for the coming season. Pay special attention to which weeds grew in different areas of your garden. They are good indicators of the condition of your soil. Dock and morning glory indicate low calcium and phosphorus levels. Trumpet vine, dock, polk weed and other deep-rooted weeds indicate a compacted subsoil. If you’d like to learn more about garden weeds, E. Pfeiffer’s book Weeds & What They Tell You contains a wealth of information about what weeds can tell you about your soil and how to read the weeds.
Carrots growing under row cover can be exceptionally sweet in winter and there is nothing quite as delicious and tender as frost nipped collards or kale. Spun polyester row cover has made having an abundant harvest of hardy greens and winter roots during the cool days (November 21 through January 21 when plants grow slowly or not at all) so much easier for gardens in Virginia. Still for the coldest days when the garden is covered with snow there is nothing like opening your own low-tech cold frame to harvest a winter salad. If you need help making a cold frame, Gardenway’s “Building and Using Cold Frames” has numerous simple, easy-to-build plans just right to fill a cold December day with thoughts of spring.
To make best use of your stored winter vegetables, sort through them every week or two and cull out all the bad ones. Plan your winter meals to regularly include sweet potatoes, winter squash, potatoes, garlic, and all your home-canned and frozen produce. Cut the green sprouts off your onions to use as onion greens.
During these mid-winter weeks when plants grow slowly or not at all and your mailbox is sprouting seed catalogs is the best time to garden on paper. Virginia gardener Pam Dawling, and author of Sustainable Market Farming, wrote a really helpful article in Mother Earth News magazine online Understanding Seed Catalogs: 15 Features to Look For. Check out my book, The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast (available from in many local libraries) to help with planning and month-to-month maintenance in their garden. A number of online and digital tools are also available to help with garden planning. Ashland, Virginia bio‑intensive mini farmer Cindy Conner has a great DVD and accompanying CD to help you make a plan that allows you to enjoy your garden to the max. “Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan” and Cindy’s other great DVD, “ Cover Crops and Compost in your Garden,” are available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Homeplaceearth.com. On the next cold, wet day find yourself a cozy corner and start planning your garden for 2018!