Question: A client called the Plant Clinic this week. What vegetables can I plant in the winter?

Answer: Kale is an extremely hardy plant that grows year-round in most places. It is one of those vegetables everyone enjoys growing and eating. Hungry Gap, the name of one old variety, reflects the time of year when little else but kale would be available in the garden.

Whether it’s red leaved, purple veined, blue-green or nearly black, and the leaves ruffled, crinkly or smooth, kale is one of the most robust-looking vegetables in any garden. Kale is a heavy feeder and likes a fertile loamy soil. To achieve this, use a liberal application of compost at planting time, and apply a side dressing of a well–balanced fertilizer.

For direct sowing, plant seed ½ inch deep and cover the seed with loose soil, potting soil or sifted compost. This time of year, it is best to start plants in containers for transplanting. Sow the seed in seedling mix, and transplant when seedlings are a couple of inches tall.

If you don’t have the space to grow kale in the garden, you can grow it in a pot. The pot or container must have at least 12 square inches of space for the plant to grow in. Plant your seeds or starts in the center of the pot with a good layer of compost. Make sure to move kale grown in containers into a partially shaded area when summer arrives.

Some popular varieties are:

Lacinato (also known as Dragon’s Tongue, Dinosaur and Tuscan Black) is the Italian heirloom whose tongue-shaped leaves are blue-green and heavily crimped.

Siberian (Russian) kales have flat leaves with finely divided edges. Red Russian (also known as ragged Jack) has purple veins and red around the edges of its blue-gray leaves, especially once the weather has turned cold. It’s handsome in the garden, as well as in the kitchen, with leaves that are both hardy and tender.

Scotch Kales (Dwarf Blue, Redbor and Winterbor) are the ruffled, curly kales. Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch kale is a low growing plant that is extremely hardy. Likewise, Redbor and Winterbor are extremely ruffled and winter hardy but not dwarfed.

Red Chidori is almost too pretty to pick, with fairly flat leaves with ruffled edges. The veins are bright purple, the interior of the leaves are red and the edges are deep green.

Kale is one of the super nutritious vegetables. It’s high in beta-carotene and other carotenoids, the elusive vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein and, to a lesser degree, calcium. It is best to harvest the leaves from the bottom up at any size. Cool weather brings out the best flavor.

Question: When is the best time for planting peas in the garden?

Answer: Peas are a hardy cool-season vegetable that can be grown in a variety of soil types. Best sites have soils that are well drained with a pH 6.5 or higher. It is a good idea to apply a layer of compost, and a well balanced fertilizer at the time of planting.

Most varieties of peas can be planted in our area as early as mid-February. It is best to plan for multiple plantings, such as every three to four weeks, for extended harvest. Climbing peas must be trained on trellises. Most bush-type vines can be allowed to grow on the ground but are more easily managed on a short trellis.

Peas can be direct seeded 2 to 3 inches apart in rows 2 feet apart. It is best practice to coat the seeds with an inoculant for better germination and growth. Inoculants are live rhizobium bacteria and can be purchased along with your seed.

Peas form a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia bacteria that remove nitrogen from the air to be accumulated in nodules on their roots. This nitrogen is then converted into a usable form. Some is used by the plant itself, and the excess is released into the soil for other plants to use. This entire process is called nitrogen fixing and occurs only if there are sufficient populations of rhizobia bacteria in the soil.

Inoculants are live rhizobia bacteria applied to the seed immediately prior to planting. Always rotate your planting site every year or two, if possible.

There are many types of peas to choose from. Edible pods include snow, sugar or snap peas. Snow and sugar peas usually have flat pods and are picked before seeds develop. Snap peas have a rounded pod and are eaten with developed seed, and the pod and seed are tender. Shelled types are the classic garden pea, and the pods are not edible.

Snow peas and sugar peas are delicious raw in salads or lightly steamed as a side dish. Some popular varieties are Oregon Sugar Pod II, Sweet Horizon, Mammoth Melting Sugar and Green Beauty. Snap peas are a terrific versatile pea, and both the peas and pods are edible. Some recommended varieties include Sugar Snap, Sugar Ann and Sugar Daddy.

Shelled peas are terrific for freezing, canning and drying. Some tasty varieties include Lincoln, Serge, Green Arrow and Alderman.

Do you have a gardening question? Please e-mail, call or visit the Douglas County Master Gardener Plant Clinic at, 541-672-4461 or 1134 S.E. Douglas Ave., Roseburg.

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White-stemmed forms tend to be hardier than their red counterparts, so expect the latter to turn to mush in harsh frosts (but if you're lucky they'll re-sprout a crop of new leaves in spring before running to seed). 'Bright Lights' selection (Marshalls) is a cheery mix of whites, yellows and reds. Leeks are an absolute must on a winter plot, as they're great for combining with, for example, potato for soup, chicken for pies, a rich cheese sauce – they're also excellent just sweated off with butter and black pepper. If rust is a problem in your area (it tends to be more problematic in mild, moist autumns) choose a variety showing strong resistance such as 'Oarsman' (Marshalls). Leek moth is more widespread these days (it used to be just confined to the south), so if it's known in your neighborhood, cover plants with fine mesh netting or fleece to thwart it. Purple-leaved varieties tend to be hardier, such as the French classic 'Bleu de Solaise' (Real Seeds) and the British bred 'Northern Lights' (Dobies). in batches before the soil freezes solid, heeling the plants into a sheltered, unfrozen spot in the garden.

A row of black Tuscan kale (such as 'Nero di Toscana', from Real Seeds, who have a mouth-watering selection of kale varieties) is a welcome treat on any plot. The leaves are of the darkest bottle green and the taste is as robust as the veg itself – great with liver and bacon or a hearty lamb stew.

The outer foliage may well get ravaged by caterpillars and dirtied by soil, but the tightly-packed heart will escape unharmed, ready to be sliced, lightly boiled or steamed and dressed with butter and black pepper – casserole fodder like no other. Winter-cropping plants are incredibly forgiving, as long as they're given the chance to build up a strong root system in summer. Good-sized heads will naturally follow. 'Alaska' (Marshalls) is a favourite of mine because it's compact and stands incredibly well through the winter. It's an F1 hybrid and an RHS AGM (Award of Garden Merit) winner.
Brussels sprouts

I was recently surprised how hardy annual spinach is.

Coming in to a steaming bowl of curried parsnip soup is blissful after a spell out in the cold, so make sure you have a row of these hearty roots handy. There are a few things to watch for: the seed's shelf life is short so buy fresh each year; avoid over-rich soils, as this can give excess leaf at the expense of root; don't sow too early as germination will be poor on cold soils and it also increases the likelihood of canker disease; sow seeds in clumps in the soil, then thin to the strongest seedling. Don't let all this put you off – just sow little clusters of fresh seeds in May and avoid being heavy-handed with the fertilizer.

I've never bought Jerusalem artichoke tubers, they've always been volunteer plants on my plots (so you could probably get smoother-skinned varieties than I've experienced). This is the thing with these sunflower relatives – once you've got them you're never without them which, if you like them, is rather handy. The swollen tubers can reach deep into the soil, especially sandy ones, so despite all your digging efforts you'll never get them all out. Plants grow tall – 6-8ft at least – so utilise this by making them into a windbreak for more delicate crops. Introduce them gradually into your diet, because they contain insulin rather than starch and once this reaches our large intestine, digestive bacteria have a bit of a party converting this into gas. Lots of gas. They're delicious roasted, having a sweet, nutty, melting flesh a little like a mild parsnip. I've not tried them as a soup yet but apparently this is good, too.

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