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Recession prompts winter gardening success

By: Gloria Young, Home & Garden
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Auburn’s Betty Jensen has always thought about having a winter vegetable garden, but never got around to it. Then, the economy turned sour and that was the spark she needed to make it happen. “I garden a lot, but not vegetables (except for tomatoes),” she said. “I only get four hours of sun in this place. There are lots of shade trees.” But winter vegetables are another story. Instead of waiting until April or May, this year she started in January. “It was a little bit late, but it still worked,” she said. “I was surprised at how easy it was and how I got so much.” For the past few weeks, she’s enjoyed homegrown lettuce, collard greens, mustard greens and broccoli — and is looking forward to the cabbage . “The lettuce is gone, but I’m still eating the mustard and the broccoli,” she said. The cabbage was the last to ripen. “I haven’t harvested any cabbage,” she said last week. “I was surprised about that. I thought it would be ready earlier. But they’re big and beautiful.” The lettuce was a nice surprise, too. “It was so easy and so prolific,” Jensen said. “I thought that pests like lettuce a lot. There was a little pest damage, but not enough to (ruin it).” In fact, she says it’s something anyone can do. “My advice is to just plant a little bit of lettuce in the smallest space you have and you’ll be surprised and happy,” Jensen said. She found that winter growing doesn’t take a lot of extra effort. “I had a compost pile I emptied out on the area,” she said. “I didn’t do any extra fertilizing or extra pest control.” She did take some precautions and offered some advice based on her experience. “When the plants are really small, put Sluggo around the edges — Sluggo-plus. It controls earwigs, sow bugs, snails and slugs.” There’s no need to put on anymore once the plants get taller, she said. She didn’t have to worry about watering either — the rainy season took care of that. Eisley Nursery in Auburn offers seven or eight kinds of lettuce starts, according to an employee who did not provide his name. He recommended leaf lettuce because it is much easier to grow than head lettuce. Lettuce does not do well in the heat, so the best time to grow it is early spring and fall, he said. For Jensen, the winter garden did so well, she has shared some of the bounty with neighbors. She’s now building on her successful winter experience with some summer specialties. “I planted crookneck squash seeds,” she said. “I planted parsley. I’m going to plant some basil. I have the little starts.” She’s also tackling gai choy. “I got the seed from a vendor at the farmers’ market,” Jensen said. “I’ve been buying gai choy from her all these years. So I just asked if she had seeds, and she gave some to me. So I’ll see if I can grow it myself.” When it’s ready to pick, she has an easy recipe that works well for most leafy greens. “Just mix any greens together and chop them and cook them with garlic and hot peppers,” she said. Jensen takes a very relaxed approach to gardening. “I grow what is easy and what works here,” she said. “I don’t go to any extreme measures. If it doesn’t work here, I go on to something else.”