Zero Mile Diet

Food self-sufficiency  --  Eating well out of your Garden --  Tips on Local Gardening

A series of articles on year-round eating from the garden, by Sue Wheeler

These articles, arranged by month, are intended to pass on information to help us become more food self-sufficient by eating well out of the garden all year round. I will include tips I've picked up from my own and friends' experience, plus information I've run across that I haven't seen elsewhere. I don't plan to include info that is widely available in garden books and articles, such as how to grow squash or potatoes or other crops that are harvested in Fall and stored. 

"Winter gardening" is really spring and summer planting for winter eating. It requires planning to be sure there is a place in the garden for the overwintering crops to go in at the right time. For example, when you plan where you'll plant carrots, allow space for spring planting of the summer carrots and also summer planting of the carrots that will be left in the ground and harvested through the winter and into spring. A bed that had the earliest peas and lettuces will be finished in time for the overwintered cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower. I reserve a spot from the beginning of the season for kale and chard, which need to be seeded in the garden before any of the early crops are finished. 

A good source of information is Linda Gilkeson's articles about winter gardening on the coast, which can be found at

Linda also has an excellent book, Year-Around Harvest, which can be ordered from West Coast Seeds, Salt Spring Seeds, at local bookstores, or through her website, 

Another recommended book is Eliot Coleman's Four-Season Harvest, available at the regional library (

Here is a table of what to plant when on Lasqueti (adapted from Linda Gilkeson's "Salt Spring Planting Dates" in her book Year Round Harvest)



Feb. or March



Celeriac, parsley, leeks, chard

Early June

Brussels sprouts, carrots

Mid- to late June

Purple sprouting broccoli, winter & over-wintering cabbage, parsnips, beets

Early July

Rutabagas, endive & radicchio, kale, kohlrabi, overtintered cauliflower

Late July-early August

Arugula, fall & winter lettuce, mizuna and other Asian greens, collards, kale, daikon and winter radishes, spinach, corn salad, basil (for transplanting to pots for a windowsill indoors in early fall)


Early August                  

Late August to mid-September

Over-wintered onions


Corn salad, cilantro, arugula, winter lettuce

early October

Lettuce and spinach in greenhouse


April 2009

This week's article from Linda Gilkeson's email list is about hardening off seedlings. You can get on this list by emailing Linda at info [at] lindagilkeson [dot] ca. She lives on Salt Spring, so her tips are directly useful for us. You can read all her past articles at the link she cites below.

Quoting Linda:
How you harden off tender seedlings can have a long term effect on the   crop. Hardening off is the process of reducing the growth rate of seedlings by exposing them to cooler conditions and less water and fertilizer. As their growth is checked, plants accumulate food reserves, which they can use to produce new roots faster when they are transplanted. Hardening off also thickens the cuticle and wax layers on leaves, which helps plants to withstand wind and weather and protects leaves from sunburn.

Some plants can be hardened off to withstand frost, including the cabbage family, lettuce, most greens and onions. If transplants plants are too large, however, exposure to temperatures under 5-10oC for more than a couple of weeks can make some of them send up seedstalks.

The tricky thing is that there is a disadvantage to over-hardening plants. Such plant are slow to begin growth and may never really recover, resulting in lower yields and later maturing crops. Transplants suffering from uneven watering, from being rootbound or chilled become over-hardened. Plants for sale have usually been hardened off by the time they reach the market so they become over-hardened if they hang around too long before they are set out. [Find out when your local nursery brings in new stock, buy your transplants the day they arrive and plant them out immediately or else pot them on]. Home grown seedlings that were started too early suffer the same fate if they end up being held too long in small pots.

Hardening off is least helpful for tender plants, such as tomatoes,   peppers, cucumber, melons, squash, and celery. Ideally, you want to time the seeding date for these so that transplants reach the right size to go into the garden just as the weather becomes warm and stable (good luck with that!). Such tender plants are better off being started later rather than earlier so they don’t experience a check in their growth. In any case, if seedlings are becoming rootbound and the weather still isn’t warm enough to put them out, they should be potted in larger containers and kept in.

Hardening off for tender crops mainly means getting them used to direct sunshine. Tender plants that have been started under glass can be seriously damaged or even die from sunburn if suddenly moved outdoors (really!). Sunburn damage on cucumbers and squash (the most susceptible group) appears as light tan spots and blotches on leaves and stems.

What to do: Gently harden off transplants you have grown by gradually   exposing them to direct sun and outdoor conditions. Starting with an hour or so the first day, set them out for a longer period each day, taking about a week to get them used to a whole day outdoors. Move them indoors if nights are cooler than normal. Once they are set out, keep sheets of plastic, floating row cover, cloches or other covers handy to protect transplants from an late cool spell.

May 2009

WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH: It's not too late to plant leeks, for harvest through the winter and into next May.  Parsley planted now will last over the winter in the garden, barring three weeks under heavy snow (and even then it did come back from the roots)  And it's not too late to start celeriac indoors, for transplanting into the garden when it's truly warm later in the month. It will last through next April. 

First week of July

 This week: last chance to plant beets, carrots, and rutabagas for late fall/winter harvest. If it's hot, a cover of burlap or newspaper will help keep the seedbed moist until the seeds sprout (Remove this as soon as they have sprouted).

This is also the time to plant seeds for overwintered cauliflower, to be harvested next spring. If you didn't get seeds for this crop this year, make a mental note to get them when you order seeds next winter. It's the sweetest cauliflower you will ever taste, and great to have at that time of year.

Look for and prepare a place where you will be able to sow hardy greens in a couple of weeks-- chard, kale, arugula, spinach, Chinese cabbage and other Asian greens.


Early August

 The arrival of August shift us into the next phase of planting for winter eating. August 1st is the halfway point between Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox-- Lammas, in the Celtic and old British calendars, a harvest festival in which bread baked from the first wheat harvest of the year was blessed. Bread blessings sound good to me! The shortening of the days means that seed can be sown for overwintered onions (Onions are sensitive to day-length and might bolt to seed too early if planted sooner). Walla Walla is the main variety grown in this area-- a large, delicious onion that will be ready for harvest around July 1st next year (OK, it's not exactly winter eating, but it does fill the gap left by the last of the stored onions, before next year's crop will be ready). Seed a few rows in any spot in the garden, cover with a little protection against the worst winter weather, then transplant next spring into that year's onion area.

You can sow all the Asian greens now for fall harvest, plus fall and winter lettuces, arugula, kale, winter radishes, spinach, scallions and corn salad. Corn salad, also known as mache ("mosh"), is especially hardy, and works well as a cover crop as other things get harvested.

Tips for seedling survival in hot weather: If your soil dries especially quickly, so that daily watering is not enough to germinate seeds, try covering the seeded area with cloth or a couple of layers of newspaper. Check each day and remove as soon as the seeds have sprouted. After this, to shelter the babies from too much sun, I've been using upturned bedding plant trays, those lattice-work black or grey plastic trays that a dozen or so small pots come in from nurseries. They let in about 50% of the light. They turn up at the Free Store, or maybe a neighbour has a few spares, if you don't have any. Shade cloth would work, too.


Early September-October

 The best time to plant for fall and winter eating may have just passed, but if you haven't been able to do it yet I'd suggest going out there right now and sowing some lettuce, arugula, spinach and corn salad, especially if you have room in the greenhouse or a cold frame or any other place you could shelter after the weather turns. It is probably not too late to plant cilantro, which is surprisingly hardy-- one Lasqueti gardener had hers survive outside last winter, with no protection, through all that snow and cold. If you can get transplants from a neighbour, or find plants for kale, Asian greens, or lettuce at a nursery, that would put you a couple of weeks ahead of direct seeding. 


Through early October you can sow lettuce, spinach, arugula, and Asian greens, under a cold frame or in a greenhouse, that will germinate and stay small through the winter and begin to grow quickly when the days lengthen in February, giving you salads in the early spring, before you need the greenhouse for tomatoes etc.      Whatever you do, be sure to get cover crops on the bare patches in the garden as they appear after harvest. If you are able to do only one thing for your next year's garden, this is the best.      Make a note of the fall and winter crops you wish you'd gotten seed for this year, for next year's seed ordering. The whole schedule of what to plant when is on the main page of the Zero Mile Diet site.