We are fortunate here in the Willamette Valley in Oregon to have mild temperatures in the winter, allowing us to have winter vegetable gardens. My home is actually a zone 8b, so our winter temperatures generally do not dip low enough to kill many types of vegetables. Some vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and kale even taste sweeter in the winter, because cold temperatures stimulate sugar production. I am going to plant and maintain a small winter garden this year, and I started yesterday with lettuce and winter greens. I used a lettuce blend and a winter greens blend, and I recommend using such blends to make your small garden more diverse and interesting.
Comparing traditional winter greens to lettuce is kind of like comparing puppies to kittens. Yes, both winter greens and lettuce have green leaves, but they do not share much else by way of plant genetics. You can see what I mean by just looking at their seeds. The photo on the top below shows a sample of my lettuce blend of seeds, and the second photo is the winter greens blend: Chard are the chunky alien looking seeds while the round seeds are seeds from the Brassica family, also called mustard greens. Brassicas include rutabaga, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and many more. You can think of Brassicas as being different breeds of puppies (related to each other and you can see that just by looking at the similarity in their seeds), but lettuces are not at all related to Brassicas.
I often have problems with slugs in the garden. My raised beds are made out of stone, which is beautiful, but I think the rocks provide ideal shelter for slugs. Slugs are less active right now in the fall compared to the spring, when they seem to have extremely voracious appetites. But I’m still going to use my copper slug barrier just in case. (Slugs most love to eat the first tender shoots of a plant after the seed has just sprouted, which kills the plant entirely. Once a plant grows to be a few inches high, there might be a few nibbles here and there from a slug, but it won’t kill the plant). The mesh stands on it’s own after I burrow one edge into the dirt. My copper mesh has oxidized, and is no longer shiny due to a few seasons of use. However, it still causes the slugs to feel something similar to an electric shock, I’ve been told, on their bodies. They also don’t like the texture. The copper mesh barrier is effective and a chemical free solution to slugs, but copper is extremely expensive unfortunately. It is not a practical solution for large gardens.
I applied a general all purpose organic fertilizer and then wet the soil. Wet your soil before you plant the seeds. (Otherwise the seeds can get pushed around by the water if you plant in dry soil and then wet it afterwards).
I planted all of the seeds about 1-2 inches apart. The lettuce seeds are placed on top, and I barely covered them. The brassica and chard seeds are planted 1/2-1 inch deep. The lettuce will be thinned later to grow full heads of lettuce. (I’ll pull out babies leaving only baby lettuces every 6 inches to grow to full heads—that is the definition of thinning). I intend to harvest the winter greens when the leaves are small and tender, so, unlike lettuce, they may not have to be thinned.
Lastly, I added a nice row cover. These are great for winter gardens and early spring gardens, as they act like a greenhouse to warm the soil for faster germination and frost protection. These are optional. After I took the photo, I actually pulled the row cover off, as we are having a very warm October with high daytime temperatures still in the 70’s, and it is unnecessary here in the Willamette Valley at this time.