Friday, January 27, 2012

Winter Blues.... & reds, greens, orange and purple.

That's right folks, those are the colors that could only mean Winter Gardening. Wow... it's amazing to me how many people believe the Garden season is over when the first killing frosts bite. We see our prize Tomato plants wither... melon vines shrivel ... Pepper plants drop their leafs ... cucumbers vines lay limp on the trellis .. I guess it's no wonder it seems hopeless to most. 

Well, the good news is, it's not over because we still have a "Sub-Season" from early autumn through early to middle winter. It's this span that we call the 'Winter Garden'. The crops we need to consider for the Winter Garden are Carrots and the Brassica family. Brassica and/or Brassicaceae is a genus of plants in the Mustard  Family which includes Cabbage common head and savoy, Chinese Cabbage loose leaf head such as Napa, Pak Choi, BroccoliCauliflowerBrussels Sprouts, Radishes common and Chinese Daikon style, Turnips, Rutabagas, KohlrabiKale, Collard Greens,  and of course Leaf Mustard - (American, and Chinese) varieties including Seed Mustard.

Now having presented the short list of Brassica for this discussion, I want to point out that some of these varieties are hardy only through the heavy frosting periods, while others are quite viable into the extended freeze periods.

Frost and/or Extended Freeze Tolerant.

Cabbage - common late head, and Chinese Leaf, especially Pak Choi. (Napa style are not as heavy frost tolerant). Cabbage is a great fall crop as most of the cabbage moths are gone by the time it is in it's prime. Until then however, use floating row covers or "low tunnels" to protect them from (cabbage worms) the devastating larva of the white cabbage moth.
Note: While frost is beneficial to flavor, Head Cabbage should NOT be allowed to freeze solid and thaw in the garden, this will only cause the head to Rot, thus wasting an otherwise prized edible. The same is true for Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower.

Brussels Sprouts - The frost greatly improves the flavor of this wonderful Brassica. If your kids are hesitant with early crop Brussels Sprouts, they are sure to like post frost ones.
Like all Brassica They are very nutritious. Most varieties of Brussels Sprout are slow growing, so plant your starts a minimum of 65 days before first frost of autumn.

Broccoli & Cauliflower -  Broccoli will at times of heavy frost turn deep green with a purple hue and  white Cauliflower will buff brown or in the case of yellow and purple will darken in color, but is not harmed. Neither though, should be left for an extended freeze. 
The 'exception' being a particular type of Broccoli.  The Sprouting Broccoli and Rapini Broccoli which is in the Brassica Rapa (aka Raab) family. These types of broccoli produces 'Florets' instead of a main head and the leafs are also edible. These varieties produce in mid December while some must be overwintered before it produces in early March and April. The flavor is well worth the wait.

Kohlrabi - This is a plant that's a delight to grow. The clean mild flavor is reminiscent of a cross between Cabbage and Turnip. Very easy to grow and holds well in the garden even with the most sever frosts. Kohlrabi is my choice for the BEST coleslaw you will ever eat. The leafs are also edible and the nutrition value is similar to Cabbage. I personally plant ONLY one variety of Kohlrabi of the Gigante cultivar commonly named "Superschmelz". It's the only Kohlrabi that will attain very large sizes and NEVER become woody. Plant in August for an autumn and mid winter crop. 

Radishes - Nearly everyone enjoys radishes, and is a traditional early spring/summer crop. Although, radishes are adversely affected by mid summers heat and is usually abandon and forgotten. In the Grateful Garden the common radish is both a spring and very late autumn crop, while the Chinese varieties are never planted before late summer and early autumn. Both varieties are harvested as needed until the ground freezes which makes it impossible to pull or dig, they are left then till the first thaw for a wonderful extra early treat. The best varieties I have personally found for the winter crop that wont turn woody are German Giant, and the Chinese radishes, Winter Rose and the Daikon. Nearly all of the Daikon varieties can be left in the ground through winter. Of course it is always important to mulch heavily.

Now then, lets get into the Nutritional Powerhouse varieties.

Leaf Mustard - There is no better flavor in "greens" then Mustard after the frost. Some of my favorites are the oriental types such as 'Large Leaf Tong Ho' and the dwarf 'Ho Mi Z'. But let us not forget the all American favorite 'Green Wave'. Mustard greens are second only to Kale in their ability to lower Cholesterol. And they also have two unique Glucosinolate  compounds that act as cancer protection, Sinigrin and Gluconasturtiian.   Nearly all the Mustard's are fast growing and can be sown as late as 45 days before first autumn frost. I have picked Mustard greens after weeks of a hard freeze during a brief thaw and the center leafs were as fresh as can be. 

Kale - This Brassica should be in EVERY garden and a regular part of everyone's diet. It's very easy to grow and is perhaps one of the most nutritious Leaf Brassica that exists. Kale contains very high concentrations of Beta Carotene, Vitamins K, A and C, as well as Lutein and Zeaxanthin and is a good source of Calcium. Kale is also a source of the very potent anti-cancer agents, Sulforaphane and Indole-3-Carbinol. Kale is in the 'Extended Freeze' category because it will grow well into winter and it's not at all uncommon to remove snow to harvest the delectable leafs, especially when mulched. Kale comes in many different varieties  including the very beautiful ornamental Flowering Kale, all of which are edible.
My final thought on this, the greatest of leaf Brassica is, "Eat plenty of Kale, and when your done, eat some more".

OK... let move onto The King of Root Crops. Carrots, Carrots, and more Carrots. It may well be used in more of the worlds cuisine then any other vegetable as is with the onion and garlic. "Extremely Versatile" is the term that best describes this root.  It can be planted Spring,  Summer and Autumn. Carrots Overwinter very well and can be harvested during winter at any opportunity of a thaw. There is nothing tastier then Christmas Carrots, January Carrots, February Carrots... OK, OK you get the drift. Applying organic mulch is recommended for overwintering and it also helps when trying to dig an otherwise hard frozen ground. The health benefits of Carrots is well documented and known to most so I will spare you the reading. Carrots are a "must have" in the Winter Garden. 

Now onto The Queen of Root Crops, the Beet. Yes Beets, their nutritional value alone qualify them for distinction. As in Kale, Beets contain Lutein and Zeaxanthin which are essential to Macula (eye) health. But they are also EXTREMELY high in Betalain Pigments which include the very powerful compounds, Betanin and Vulgaxanthin which provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. Strong concentrations of these compounds are found in both red and yellow beets, and to a much lesser degree the colored stems of Swiss Chard and Rhubarb.  
Exuding a wonderful sweet yet earthy flavor, either fresh, steamed, baked, roasted, or pickled, beets are delicious and healthy. Also, the beet greens are an excellent addition to salads or cooked in combination with other greens . They are best sown in late mid summer and harvested after frosts. Although many varieties of beets can become woody if overwintered,  the heirloom variety "Flat of Egypt" overwintered will remain tender, sweet and juicy unto spring. 

Turnips & Rutabagas. These two wonderful roots were a staple in winter gardens of past generations. Although the roots themselves are primarily high only in Vitamin C. For the Rutabaga, 100g contain 25mg of Vitamin C, which is about 42% of the recommended daily dose. Turnips are comparable to that also. They both have a good mineral content. However the real benefit is in the HIGHLY NUTRITIOUS greens. Turnip greens contain up to 4 times the amount of Calcium then other Brassica and outscore cabbage, broccoli, and even the mighty Kale in Glucosinolate content. But here's the catch, it's this high Calcium and Glucosinolate content that makes these greens so bitter. Thus many people shy away from a highly nutritious food source. The answer to this dilemma it to mix the Turnip greens with other greens such as Mustard, Kale and Beet greens. This mix balances the compounds to a wonderful full flavored non-bitter power packed super food. Plant Turnips and Rutabagas in late mid summer. They can be left in the ground with heavy mulch, but most people harvest them before the hard extended freeze as they store quite well.

OK, I think that covers the great possibilities of the Winter Garden ... oh.. don't forget the Green Onions they are just the perfect accompaniment to a winter meal. I regularly uncover my stash of green onions growing under the straw mulch at the slightest hint of a winter thaw.
...... and remember even in the winter you can ..... go play in the dirt, it's fun.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Finally a new post!!!

Hi everyone, sorry for the long pause between posts ... I did not intend a 4 month gap, ... time flies. Well we had an unusually wet, cold spring, an exceedingly dry, intensely hot summer, and a very wet, warm autumn and early winter. My tomatoes performed very well. The tomato season concluded with 82 quarts of juice, 18 short of my projected goal of 100 quarts. Still very happy with the total, as the juice quality is 'Grade AAA'. Also more then enough tomatoes for fresh eating and cooking.


Since the Garlics were the last item to be planted this year in the Grateful Garden, lets talk about that first.
As most of you know, Garlic planting is done in late autumn. This year our autumn temperatures and rain were well above normal average, so garlic planting was delayed until Oct. 27 through Nov. 26. Overall it was a wet, very windy, and sometimes miserable during the planting process. There were several times I had to break out the trusty Butane Lantern and plant well into the night. As you may have seen in previous posts my 2011 garlic harvest was wonderful and this allowed me to greatly expand my crop for 2012. Here is how the numbers stack up for the 2011 autumn planting, and hopefully, a matching projected harvest in midsummer 2012.

Prime Stock
Wild River = 1440
Music = 612
Bavarian Purple = 270

** 3 Year Bulbil Project.**
Music - *2nd yr segmented starters*  = 981
2012 concludes this 3 year project.

Garlic Planting Video: A primer on my technique.

A look Back in Reverse
I guess we will now take a look at a few pictures of what was harvested in late December backwards to September. I really don't have many pictures through this time but a few anyway. The weather has been very mild temperature wise right up through December and the first two weeks of January so anything "Brasica", i.e. Kohlrabi, Mustard Greens etc., is still growing. Also Winter Radishes and Curled Parsley is doing well also.

01-10-12 Indonesian  Mustard Greens (Ho Mi Z), the whole mound is filled with it,  just revealed enough to show. I have cut it 4 times since late October.

A close up of the mustard greens new growth. Yummy. I just love this variety.

01-10-12 Double Curled Parsley. I pulled back just enough of the straw to show its growth, there is a  lot that is not shown.
Picked 12-26-11. Mustard, Kohlrabi, Winter Rose Radish, and Double Curled Parsley. So good to have fresh produce from the garden a day after Christmas.

Picked 12-26-11.  Baby Winter Rose Radish. I have picked several that were the size of a large russet potato. Crisp but tender, and lightly pungent.

Picked 12-26-11.  Another baby Winter Rose Radish.

Picked 12-26-11. A couple late crop Kohlrabi (Supershmelz), this heirloom can grow very large without becoming woody. Wonderful crisp mild flavor that to me is a cross between a cabbage and turnip. Just peel with a potato peeler and cut into vegi-sticks, or slice thin for addition to a sandwich, chunk and steam, or my favorite grind in food processor for the best Kohl-Slaw you have ever tasted.

LEAF FENNEL. I grew Leaf Fennel in the 2010 & 11 Grateful Garden. This plant if left in the garden till the second year becomes a perennial plant. In the 2nd year it produces long canes that resemble green bamboo. Though not as strong as bamboo, the canes can still be harvested and utilized for various purposes, such as garden markers/stakes, crafts, or whatever your imagination comes up with. Here is what my personal Christmas tree looked like made with Fennel Canes. The bulbs are my smaller Wild River garlic also harvested from the Grateful Garden.

Leaf Fennel. This is a close up showing the canes.

Leaf Fennel. This plant at the time of the picture is 5 1/2 feet tall in early August and topped out  at 7 feet.
Fennel Canes and Garlic Bulb Christmas Tree. Of course g-ma Iris had her regular Christmas tree up also.

All lit up. This was a big hit this year.

BASIL. Here is a Basil named "Serata" that is strong, fruity, with a somewhat citrus edge to it's flavor. Here is a single stand alone plant, notice how its leaf structure is serrated unlike most basil. I planted plenty in another patch (not pictured). This variety is no longer available from the vendor so I have kept plenty of seeds to continue its generation. Of course I planted Common Basil as well. Like all Basil it cannot survive the kill frost without protection.

Basil. This one is named "Serata" I really like this variety for it's strong unusual flavor with a hint of citrus.

Serata Basil. Notice how it's leaf is serrated, I would think its the origin of its name.

PARSNIPS. These parsnips were the first I have ever grown and so they were only tested in a small patch. As it turned out, I love em' and they will be planted from this point forward. Very good roasted or steamed,  or added to soups and stews, also good fresh grated into salad. A great versatile root crop. The variety is "Cobham Improved Marrow", They didn't get as big as expected but that is due to my Choice of planting time.

Cobham Improved Harrow parsnips. This was my surprise delight crop. I enjoyed this versatile root and the many ways in which it lends itself to the art of cooking.  

POPCORN. I like popcorn but the seed bracts (hulls) turn me off  when I spend as much time with a toothpick afterward as i did eating it. Thus, my choice in Popcorn is "Japanese White Hull-less". It has for the most part lived up to it's name and has a High Popping volume. The heavy intense drought and long term extreme heat greatly reduced my harvest.

Japanese White Hull-less Popcorn. 

Japanese White Hull-less Popcorn. What I like about this Popcorn is after eating it, there is very little need for a toothpick. 

OK that's it. There is no way to explain all that has occurred in the months since my last post, but I will sum up the entire 2011 Grateful Garden season as "the most enjoyable hard-ass work I have ever done." Get planting for yourself, family and friends to make 2012 your year of garden growing happiness ... 
Keep our seed heritage alive for generations to come by growing Heirloom and Open Pollinated plant varieties... and KEEP YOUR SEEDS. And please involve your kids in the garden by making it fun... it's how they learn.
 ... go play in the dirt, it's fun.