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The Winter Garden

Hello readers! Erika has her hands full taking orders from a tyrannical three year old today so I, The Sister, am filling in.

I wanted to talk a little bit about edible winter gardening. One of the best ways to stay inspired and still get a little variety in your garden is to think in terms of texture and color. Go for height and ditch the rows. Cram every available space with new varieties of  spicy greens, bitter chicories, or try growing kohlrabi and fennel. Grow vegetables that are difficult to find or expensive.

Winter can be a trying time in any garden, even one without snow. Every day is an exercise in patience– wandering between beds to check each small Brussels sprout and tiny head of cauliflower, or digging down to sneak a peek at the beetroots.  It seems like forever since we planted those purple heads of cabbage and the tiny, hair-like leeks last November.  Don’t be discouraged! There are dozens of varieties of greens to fill the space and bring color while you wait for larger vegetables to come to size. Think about bright pops of pink and orange Swiss chard stems, the silvery, blue-green leaves of dinosaur kale, even the deep purples of mustard help to keep our stews hearty and our stir-frys healthy.

To ensure your success in a winter garden, here are a few suggestions:

  • plant in succession; keep sowing lettuces, spinach and scallions every two to three weeks and you’ll always have something to harvest, even if cold or pests get to your crops at some point
  • space plants close together to help suppress weeds and maintain higher soil temperature
  • plant in colors and intermix: red Russian kale with pink stems, rainbow Swiss chard, crimson lettuces, and mustard greens can be squeezed into open spaces between rows of cabbages and leeks, giving continuous cuttings of nutritious greens through the leaner growing months and will look beautiful all winter
  • start sugar snap and English peas indoors as early as Christmas, and harvest some of the tender green vines once you plant out and they begin climbing– the sweet tendrils are tasty sauteed in olive oil and paired with salty cheeses
  • after you harvest the main head of broccoli, let the side shoots continue to produce– the small, sprouting florets are even more tender and can be roasted and tossed with lemon
  • experiment! look to your pantry– dried garbanzo beans will sprout within a week, and though they require 90-100 days to harvest (and far too many plants for a substantial crop) they will bring something new to your garden
What to do with all those greens?
  • kale chips: roast at 400 degrees F with olive oil, salt and pepper until the edges are crispy
  • sautee any Asian greens in a little sesame oil, then serve with soy and sweet chili sauce over rice (then top with a fried egg if you know what’s what)
  • harvest the bottom leaves of Brussels sprouts, and use as you would collards– steam, stuff and bake or stew with bacon and black-eyed peas
  • blanche Swiss chard leaves whole and layer into lasagna with lots of cheese, or stuff into enchiladas with pinto beans

March 28, 2012 - Posted by | Wednesday Food

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