For most novice gardeners spring is a time of reacquainting themselves with their garden beds that have been empty all winter. I totally get this and yes spring is a great time to start growing things in your beds but I urge you to not forget about winter gardening. Winter gardening is actually very easy in Zone 9. With the cool weather and winter rains, most of the time winter crops don't need much attention at all. So if you are ready to dive in and try out some winter gardening, we have listed our favorite winter crops to grow.
If you have been following along for awhile, then you know how much I love chard. Not only is it colorful but it is packed with nutrients. In fact, the CDC lists chard as one of the most nutrient dense fruits/vegetables with a score of 89.27 out of 100. However for gardeners the best part of this vegetable is that it is SO easy to grow. If you would like to try a wonderful chard recipe that my kids love, check out my post "A Swiss Chard Recipe That Even Kids Will Eat".
OK OK Kale is very similar to chard but there are some recipes that work with kale much better than chard. Surprisingly kale has a CDC score of 49.07 out of 100 for nutritional value compared to chard's 89.27. However kale chips are by far one of my kids favorite vegetable dishes to make. Check out the recipe from allrecipes for how to make kale chips. For a novice grower, kale is a great place to start since once planted they won't need attention. Harvest at will for salads or other dishes (using kale in lasagna tastes great and a perfect way to sneak in nutrients).
Having my kids be able to harvest our salad from our garden in January reminds me of why I love living in California. My kids can experience the garden to table mentality and appreciate the effort (although on my part very low) of growing your own food. I think because this is a food that my kids have so often seen us buy from the store in the past, actually harvesting it from the garden is very meaningful for them. Lettuce and spinach can be grown in your garden bed or also in pots. They don't need much room but best to have the planter raised above the ground for optimal harvest. Lettuce & spinach score 70.73 & 86.43 respectively on the CDC list making them both great choices to include in your diet.
Cauliflower is also really easy to grow although I feel like I don't necessarily get large harvests of it. However watching them grow is so fun and being able to harvest a large cauliflower from your very own garden is very rewarding. Our favorite cauliflowers are the yellow varieties since they look beautiful in your dishes. Although cauliflower is fun to grow they can be a bit less productive based on our temperature since our temperatures can fluctuate so much but don't let this deter you from trying it. Even if your yield is smaller with this crop it is well worth the experience of watching it grow. For reference CDC lists cauliflower as 25.13 which is still providing so many more nutrients than many other food we eat.
Herbs are true powerhouse plants. I do often like to grow these in smaller containers (pots) as opposed to in my garden beds since they grow well contained. There are so many herb varieties to choose. Basil, Mint, Thyme, Parsley, Oregano etc. My advice is to really think about what you like to cook and choose a plant that will add to those recipes.
I understand that winter gardens aren't necessarily as showy as your summer garden but they also frankly don't require as much time, pruning or water as summer gardens do. However, winter gardens really pack a punch when it comes to nutrients so they are worth trying out and experimenting with some new recipes.