There are lots of people who pack it up when it comes to fall and winter gardening, largely because they are just worn out after summer. If you follow AgriMissouri on facebook, you saw in the discussions this week about dozens of things you can grow into fall and winter. However, most of those take a little work. You may have to cover or mulch them. If it is dry, you still have to water, and to keep the greens looking good, you have to keep them picked.
When it comes to growing over winter, nothing is easier than garlic. For those who like to use every inch of their space, every day of the year, it is a great way to put that space to bed (work wise), and while still in production. Garlic is a crop you plant in the fall and mulch heavily. This takes care of the space, and as the mulch breaks down it prepares the soil for next year. All the while, the bulbs swell below the surface for next spring's harvest.
Garlic isn't usually harvested until June and July, but you can also harvest the flower stalk or "scape" in early spring. For those who sell at markets, scapes sell for as much as 25 cents each. While you are waiting for the bulbs to mature, you can also plant bib and head lettuce between them. Not only is this an efficient use of space, but the garlic helps repel the leaf minor and other insects that can damage these crops. Finally, when you harvest the garlic, any of the bulbs that are left in the ground too long and break open you can set aside as seed stock for next fall.
Garlic is a great crop for homeowners who really want to taste the difference in something fresh. Often, when you buy garlic in stores it is as much as a year old. It is also a great cash crop for those who sell what they grow. Best of all, it requires very little work and uses space that wouldn't be used otherwise. This is why we like to think of it as "Winter's Gold".
For a complete guide to growing garlic, check out MU Extension's Missouri Beginning Farmers blog: http://missouribeginningfarming.blogspot.com/2011/09/growing-garlic-get-ready-to-plant-in.html
If you haven't found this program, Missouri Beginning Farmers is a great resource for large commercial growers and beginners alike. For research, workshops, seasonal information, and great networking, it provides a great opportunity to learn as an individual and as a community.