ALMOST LIKE SUMMER
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 plummeting temperatures. Not only does it look unfazed; it also tastes very delicious.
More surprising is the endive that I planted back in August, then covered beneath a “tunnel” of clear plastic and slightly insulating row cover held aloft by metal hoops in late October. Temperatures about a week ago went as low as -8° Fahrenheit! Thanks to the additional insulation from almost a foot of snow, now melted, the endive is still lush and tasty.
The rest of winter’s fresh garden vegetables are not in the garden. Most are in plywood boxes in cold storage, first in my mudroom, then moved out to my cooler. (The cooler is an insulated room cooled with an air conditioner that has been tricked, with a device called CoolBot, into bringing the temperature down just below 40° F.) One box houses Hakurei turnips, Watermelon radishes, and Daikon radishes picked around the middle of December.
The same day I pulled the turnips and radishes, I also dug up leeks, now nestled into another box. With snow cover, both leeks and turnips probably would survive winter out in the garden, but reaching into a box is easier than chopping through ice and snow out in the garden to get at these vegetables.
Yet 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. One more box is packed full of napa type Chinese cabbages, good for “Asian slaw” or stir fry.
Most years I would have braids of onions also. Not this year. Crop failure. All the onions, both direct-seeded and grown from my transplants, didn’t grow large enough to bother storing. The problem was a clog, too long undetected, in the water line to the seasonal irrigation pump at, evidently, a critical time in onion bulb development.
(I also have a 400 square foot greenhouse packed full of fresh, growing lettuce, mustard greens, arugula, celery, claytonia, kale, chard, and mâche, with a little fresh dill, cilantro, and parsley. But that’s a whole other story.)
I may be addicted to blueberries. I now eat them pretty much every morning year ‘round. That’s fresh blueberries beginning at the end of June, and frozen ones from mid-September on. I pace myself. The frozen blueberry season opens with about 70 bags (each bag about 5 cups) in the freezer, enough to keep us “berry happy” on into June.
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 two main 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 believe that only because in late December it’s been so long since I’ve had a fresh blueberry.
Man cannot, of course, live by bread alone. I could use some fragrance, some olfactory hint of spring — or summer, or fall. Years ago, I grew “many-flowered jasmine” (Jasminium polyantha). A misnomer for my plant. Its fragrance was heavenly but it only coughed up a few blossoms each winter, despite my subjecting it to a period of temperatures below 60 degrees F. and some drought to give it a rest before it (was supposed to) burst into flowering abundance.
Gardenia was another one of my plants for winter fragrance. It did bloom in winter, late winter, and its fragrance was heavenly. But it proved to be a magnet for scale insects, one of the most difficult house plant pests to control organically. Both plants have long ago been composted.
I’m now eagerly awaiting blossoms on my Meyer lemon plant. The plant is easy to bring into bloom, and there’s the added bonus of delicious lemons. Being a hybrid of lemon and sweet orange, Meyer lemon has a slightly different flavor from that of lemons.
The other plant to — reliably, I hope — blossom now, in early winter is sweet osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans), specifically the variety Goshiki. Why Goshiki? Because it has variegated leaves, green and white with splashes of pink, spiny like those of holly. It’s cold-hardy to Zone 6. My plan is to grow it in a pot to bring indoors to a cool sunny window in late fall to spend the winter.
This is all a pipe dream so far because all I have is a spindly stem I cut to root from a plant beckoning me from a sidewalk near Philadelphia. The cutting doesn’t look hopeful. The quest begins.