Dig for When the Canned Goods Run Out #3: Late Autumn and Winter Planting

by Apocalypse Womble

It’s a depressing time of year for the gardener. The natural world seems as cold and dead as the unnatural hordes that roam the countryside. But fear not, there are still things you can do even as the autumn fades out and winter approaches!

First up is that garlic you looted as you were fleeing the city. Unlike most plants, garlic actively likes being planted in the autumn, and will not yield as well if you wait until the spring. It needs a snap of cold and frost to get it sprouting. Old wives say garlic should be planted on Halloween, and if the undead are rising that might have a certain appeal, but don’t worry too much if you missed October 31st this year. You were probably doing more urgent things, like running for your life.

Fortunately, in a mild winter you can go on planting garlic right up until Christmas. Really, until the first snows fall and the ground gets hard you should be OK. As I mentioned earlier, you can plant garlic as late as early spring, but it’s not recommended. For the cold winter months when you’re living off cold baked beans, though, the sight of a little garlic sprouting can bring hope for the future. And it couldn’t be easier to do!

Get your garlic bulb and carefully split it open. Take the cloves one by one and press them into freshly weeded, smoothed ground. It’s very important not to walk on the ground after you’ve turned the earth, as you will destroy the soil structure. Cloves should be placed in rows about 6 inches apart, with about 4 inches between each clove in the row. You only have to poke them in, leaving the tip showing, but firm up the soil around the clove by pressing down about it once the clove is in place.

Bigger cloves will perform better, so if you only have limited space, save smaller ones for cooking, but if you’ve got the space it does not harm to plant them all. Try to leave the skin against the clove itself intact to protect it and prevent rotting. Discard any cloves that are showing signs of damage or mould; you don’t want to contaminate the soil.

Unlike garlic, onions will do fine if planted in spring, but some varieties are more suited to over-wintering, and all should sprout and grow if planted, meaning that you can get a head start if you’re worried about how long your stock of canned goods will last you. You can grow onions from seed, and you’ll probably have to think about doing that for next year, but you couldn’t get seed to grow now, and it’s much easier to just loot some onion sets and use those. They look like small versions of the onions they will become, and can be planted in the same way as garlic. The only difference is that they need a bit more room. It may vary with the variety, but a good rule would be rows a foot apart and onions 6 inches apart within the row. That said, I’ve grown prize-winning onions with only 6 inches between the rows, too, so you can squish them in a bit closer if you’re pushed for space.

Red Baron is a great variety for red onions, both tasty and large for a red. Sturon Globe is a fantastic, high-yielding white onion with a good strong flavour.

Another good plant for late autumn or early winter planting is broad beans. Most other beans will shrivel at the sight of cold, but broad beans are somewhat hardier and should grow slowly throughout the winter to give you a head start in the spring. As with onions they will also grow perfectly well if planted in spring, and some varieties will be happier in the winter than others, but they’re worth popping in the ground now anyway. Why not plant some now and some in spring to make sure not all your beans are ripening at once?

Your broad bean is a large plant that will need its space. Plant in rows at least a foot apart with at least six inches between the beans. Push beans into the soil to a depth of about 1 and a half inches and cover. Don’t firm up the ground as you did for the onions and garlic

If the soil is dryish pour a little water over your future plants to help settle them in the soil, but, to be honest, this time of year, in my part of the world, the soil is usually damp enough, and you don’t want your plants to go mouldy before they have the chance to sprout. I should say that I am limited in my advice for applicability for other parts of the world. Gardening must always be relative to the climate and environment. All of the above are common plants in many parts of the world, but my advice in looking after them is necessarily tailored to my experiences of planting them in the north of England. Challenges in Southern California or South Africa may be different. When in doubt, consult the packet.

Other vegetables may also grow over winter, but these are three that I recommend to you for planting now. Others can be planted at the end of summer to supplement you diet over winter (such as Swiss Chard), but if your apocalypse has only just begun, these will have to wait until next year.

If anyone has any other suggestions for autumn and winter planting, do post them for your fellow survivors in the comments below. Sharing intel is as vital in food production as any other aspect of surviving the apocalypse!

Until next time, stay tuned to this frequency.

Apocalypse Womble out.

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