When I was a child, it seemed that winter vegetables were mostly peas and diced carrots, conveniently poured frozen out of plastic bags into pots of boiling water. Yuk! Winter notwithstanding, my backyard garden still offers plenty of fresh winter vegetables. Let’s have a look.
Kale, of course, looks unfazed by snow and temperatures that plummeted to near zero degrees F. Not only does it look unfazed; it also tastes very delicious.
The rest of winter’s fresh garden vegetables are not in the garden. Most are in plywood boxes stacked in out my mudroom, where temperatures usually hover just above freezing. One box houses turnips picked around the middle of December. They – Purple Top White Globe, Gold Ball, and Oasis – all look and taste as fresh as the day they were picked. (Note to myself: Don’t grow Gold Ball turnip next year; it tastes too much like a rutabaga to me.) The turnips are delicious cooked or chopped fresh into salads.
The same day I pulled the turnips I also dug up leeks, now nestled into the box along with the turnips. With snow cover, both leeks and turnips probably would survive winter out in the garden, but stepping out into the mudroom and reaching into a box is easier than chopping through ice and snow out in the garden to get at these vegetables. Shearing back leaves from the tops of the leeks cuts down moisture loss from the fat, white shafts, so the leeks also taste as fresh as the day they were harvested.
Another box has a few heads of cabbage, also harvested that day in December. Lopping off the outer leaves, which anyway were looking ragged and slug-eaten, cuts water loss from the tight heads and keeps them fresh, just as cutting back leaves did for the leeks.
Step down, now, into my basement and you’ll see braids of onions and garlic hanging from nails in the rafters. The onions are the variety Copra and a forgotten variety of red onion, both sweet and still firm.
So that’s my assessment of what’s now “fresh from the garden” in winter. Most years I would still have winter squashes. They were a total crop failure because of rain and because of the wood shavings I dug into the soil. (The squashes suffered nitrogen deficiency because I failed to add enough nitrogen fertilizer to offset the temporary nitrogen tie-up caused by microorganisms that decompose the shavings). Also, no mention has been made of the lettuces, mâche, kale, chard, and other fresh greens. But they’re all indoors, in the greenhouse.
I may be addicted to blueberries. I now eat them practically every morning practically year ‘round. That’s fresh blueberries beginning at the end of June, and frozen ones from mid-September on. I pace myself. Deb and I started with 67 bags (each bag about 5 cups) in the freezer in September and have only used 21 so far. Consumed at the rate of about 5 bags a month, that should keep us “berry happy” on into May.
I highly recommend planting blueberries. They are easy to grow organically, the plants are beautiful, and the berries are very healthful and taste great. They’re also easy to freeze: Just spread them on a tray until frozen, then pack them into bags. Their only requirements are suitable soil, easily made so, and protection from birds, with netting. Each bush will net you 8 pounds, or more, of berries.
Thawed in the refrigerator, the berries taste as good as fresh ones. Or maybe I think that because it’s now been so long since I’ve had a fresh blueberry.
Man cannot, of course, live by bread alone. So I’m still awaiting fragrant blossoms on my jasmine plant. This plant is “winter jasmine” (Jasminium polyantha), which has occasionally bloomed well for me. Last year, I learned that the plant needs cool night temperatures (below 60 degrees F.) plus some drought to bloom well.
My plants definitely got the cool temperatures, first outdoors and then in the cool greenhouse, with temperatures around 40 degrees F. The plant has had enough food, as indicated by healthy growth and good leaf color. The plant had sufficient light, first in the greenhouse and now in a south-facing window. But drought? Evidently not enough.
(The photo is of last year's blossoms, nice but too paltry.)
It’s time for some tough love with the jasmine. The plant will wilt. And then the plant will – I hope – explode into an extravaganza of fragrant, white blossoms.