Thursday, July 10, 2008

Winter Garden

Ella and I play with broccoli

A recent Cabbage harvest, slated for Cole Slaw

It's hard to believe or imagine, given our 90 + degree temperatures and knee-high sweet corn, but the time is now to plant our winter garden! I have been diligently dreaming and thinking, scheming, and organizing my thoughts about what to grow in our burgeoning garden space.

The longer and more completely I delve into my food-growing project, the more I am noting the need to a) think ahead, sometimes even a year or more (when it comes to planting perennials), b) timing is crucial, and c) if you miss your window, or you suffer losses from insects, wind, hail, or ___fill in the blank____, you become reliant on commercial greenhouses for your seedling starts, which signals a loss of control over variety and quality.

Even given all this, however, I have been wildly successful so far this summer with my garden to date. We are eating salad everynight for dinner with heirloom lettuce, snow peas, grated beets, and fresh herbs from the garden, all the broccoli and kale we can handle, and now I have 10 full cabbage heads ready for harvest, and another 10 broccoli heads bursting through their inner sanctum, begging for harvest! Aye!

But it's time to think of carrots, and winter broccoli, garlic, storage onions, cover crops, and lettuce, spinach and beets, and yet more cabbage. The things we can grow here all year, in spite of short days, frosty nights, and a ton of rain. In reading Territorial Seed Company's winter catalog, I learned about a whole new class of vegetables I was unaware of, carrots, broccolis, cabbages, brussels sprouts, and such that are designed to overwinter, for fruiting and production in the dead of winter or the early spring. Last year, I dutifully planted some broccoli in August, hoping to have it for winter harvest, but it all went to seed before the end of October. These were store bought seedlings, evidently a shorter, summer-season annual type, not intended for winter time holding. When I buy such seedlings, unless the company is really groovy, I usually don't know any details about the variety I'm buying. They tend to be common, commercially-oriented varieties, somewhat fool-proof to grow, but anything from specialized or micro-climate specific. The farther I learn here, the more grateful I am to those seed breeders who have figured all this out, and supported the diversity of the genetics we eat.

The other really interesting winter plan I am working on right now is to prepare bed space for a winter grain, like winter wheat. I like the idea of taking advantage of nature's irrigation, and growing our own wheat berries or barley. I'm excited to see where this goes. Our neighbor Jen secured a WWOOF'er (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) for several of us to share. Dennis is a young history teacher with family roots in Croatia, currently from New York, looking to learn about growing food. He will be helping us one day a week for the rest of the summer, and yesterday got started on our wheat beds. He is enthusiastic, and is particularly interested in Permaculture, my pet area of study. We had a great time discussing agricultural methods and philosophy yesterday, I'm already enjoy working with him.

I'll be reporting back on my winter gardening adventures as the season rolls on.

"Mom's Cole Slaw" (from

6 cups cabbage
3 Tbsp white vinegar
Kosher Salt

Use one of the following:
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 Tbsp Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt
3 Tbsp wine vinegar
2 Tbsp shaved carrot

Note: If you use a flavored salt or Old Bay seasoning, eliminate the other salt.
If you use wine vinegar, eliminate the white vinegar.
If you use carrot, eliminate the dill.

4 Tbsp organic plain yogurt
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 Tbsp dill weed (or other herbs) roughly chopped.

I also add 1 apple chopped up, and a few tbsp of pine nuts...

Preparation: Toss cabbage with 3 Tbsp white vinegar and a few generous pinches of kosher salt. Let stand a few minutes to allow the cabbage to begin to change chemically as it absorbs the ingredients. Add one of the special seasonings from the list. Toss again with the yogurt. When the cabbage is fully coated, toss with the mayonnaise. Stir in the herbs and serve. (Though I've found it tastes good after "marinating" for a while).

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