Charging Into Winter Gardening

If you’ve tackled a big garden project on a hot summer day, you know how fast you can drain your internal batteries. The heat seems to sap it out of me. But as weird as it may seem at the height of summer, right now we should be recharging our garden’s batteries with some new plants for winter.

Peas in a pot

I planted peas in this pot next to my compost pile, and now they’re ready to be moved into the sun and under a trellis.

In the Maritime Northwest, August and early September are great times to plant. I’ll tell you what seedlings I’ve got in pots and in the ground right now, and what you can get from the nurseries in the coming weeks if you don’t want to sprout your own.

If you can start from seed, I recommend it. It’s amazing how quickly seeds will sprout in a summer garden. Parsnips, which are notoriously finicky seeds, sprouted in just four days during one of our recent warm spells. And they came up in such a prolific little forest that I had to get down there and do some serious thinning.

I’ve also started Brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, beets, carrots, peas and arugula.

Beets

Beets and other seeds will sprout fast in warm summer soil. Be sure to thin to proper spacing. These beets need to be thinned to 4 inches apart.

Of course, with warm days and no rain, I’ve been hand-watering the seedlings to supplement my automatic watering regimen.

What to start now

Greens:

  • Arugula
  • Asian greens (mustards, bok choi, tatsoi, shungiku)
  • Corn salad (aka mache)
  • Cress
  • Endive/radicchio
  • Lettuce (Marvel of Four Seasons, Continuity, Merlot, Red Oak Leaf, Green Deer Tongue, Forellenschluss, Little Gem… so many – plant a rainbow salad!)
  • Swiss chard

Brassicas:

  • Broccoli (fall)
  • Broccoli raab
  • Cauliflower
  • Kohlrabi
  • Kale (choose Lacinato, aka Dinosaur/Palm Tree, the best tasting of all)
Dino kale

The best tasting kale, and very reliable in a mild maritime winter.

Roots:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Radish (winter varieties, like Black Spanish)

Alliums:

  • Leeks

More alliums go in later this fall, but you can plan now. Leave space for garlic and shallots.

Seeds or starts?

Most of these plants can be directly sown into the garden, and many of them can now be found as starts in good quality plant nurseries. I always recommend planting root crops only from seed, not transplanting.

If you’re starting from seed and want more control over the plantings, consider starting many of these in pots. It helps you keep a better eye on the seedlings to keep them well watered. You can move a flat of pots into the shade on hot days, or even protect them under some hoops and floating row cover for extra shade and to maintain soil moisture.

greens ready to plant

A flat of salad greens, ready for planting.

When space comes available in the garden and the plants have grown enough to establish hearty roots, you can transplant them. Remember that transplanting in summer is pretty stressful on young plants. Do it on a cooler, cloudy day if you can, and pay extra attention to watering until they’re showing new growth. You can also move the starts to a very large pot and keep them growing there until harvest.

Peas under a trellis

We’ll have plenty of peas for fall. I planted this batch along the house where spring salad greens had been.

More for fall

Also, plan ahead to fill the space when summer vegetables are done. Purchase a supply of cover crop seeds (often sold as a blend, which is a good way to go) and have them on hand to throw down when you pull out the tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc. You can plant a cover-crop blend up until late October.

If you have crops coming out even later, plant fava beans. They can be sown into early November and will reliably sprout in that late-fall cold soil.

Shirley’s Beet Pickles

If your beets are sizing up, or you can get a big batch of them at a farmers market, how about making some tasty pickles? This is my mother’s beet pickle recipe, simple and yet delicious.

Beet Pickles

And of course, since it came from her and it is food I loved as a child, it always takes me back to my North Dakota farm roots.

I don’t know what variety beets she grew, but for pickles I like to grow Detroit Dark Red or Early Wonder Tall Top for the rich burgundy color.

Ingredients

  • 5-1/3 cups cooked beets (about 6 large)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1-1/2 cups vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon, broken
  • ½ teaspoon whole allspice

Directions

Remove beet tops, leaving 1 inch of top. Boil the beets in lightly salted water. When tender enough for a knife to pass through them, drain. Cool the beets in icy water, slipping the skin off them while they’re still hot. When cool, cut into 1-inch chunks.

Simmer the water, vinegar, sugar and spices for 15 minutes.

Pack the beets into jars and cover with liquid to within 1/2 inch of the jar top. Process for 30 minutes in a hot water bath.

Makes 3 pints.

p.s. For details on growing successive plantings of root crops, including beets, for fall and winter, see my column in the July-August, 2016 issue of Edible Seattle.

Behold the Prince of Parsnips!

Three and a half pounds. That’s the size of one parsnip I wrenched from the garden for a winter dinner. It’s an amaze-your-friends sight.

parsnip whole

Wearing my parsnip-harvest shirt, I cleaned the giant root to prepare for cooking.

A normal parsnip might be a foot long and weigh half a pound. But this one (which, by the way, is the All-American variety from Botanical Interests), at 18 inches long, was also 16 inches wide at its shoulder, which lurked just below the mulched surface, so I didn’t see its girth. When I stuck the garden fork in the ground, I shaved off an edge, not realizing its size.

parsnips and beets

The giant parsnip dwarfs a regular-sized one, and a handful of golf-ball-sized winter beets.

Today it is becoming parsnip soup. Cutting into it crossways (using both hands and significant muscle), I expected a large, woody core, but it’s soft and pulpy all the way through, so we’re using it all.

cut parsnip

Sixteen inches around at its widest spot, but with a soft core that seems edible.

I’ve only just begun to harvest the parsnips, having waited patiently until Thanksgiving to pull the first ones. But with temperatures dropping into the 20s for the last week, I knew they would be getting sweeter, as the plant converts its starch to sugar to counteract the cold. And yes indeed, they are; we roasted the smaller one first, and it was delightful.

So here’s a holiday wish, from my parsnip garden to yours: may your roots run deep and stand strong.

Giving Thanks, 2016

This holiday weekend, the garden is soggy from steady rains. But the day before Thanksgiving yielded a warm, dry spell that got me out amongst the vegetable beds to harvest a bounty for our holiday dinner, and to reflect on the many reasons to be thankful.

Here is my annual photo essay on the joys of year-round gardening.

edible chrysanthemum shungiku

Not much is flowering in the garden right now, but this edible chrysanthemum (also called shungiku) is too cheery to cut!

Redventure celery

Redventure celery provided a bounteous harvest for our Thanksgiving stuffing recipe.

Brussels sprouts

Two tall Roodnerf Brussels sprouts plants yielded enough small- and medium-sized sprouts for a generous side dish, lightly spiced with a fresh onion.

Carrots

Young Chablis Yellow carrots are still brightly growing under my Triangle Tunnel cold frame.

Arugula

Arugula: a reliable winter flower and leafy green to spice up our salads.

Apple

I missed harvesting a small apple high on our Liberty tree, and the cluster of leaves from our unusually warm fall makes that branch remind me of spring.

peppers and parsley

My raised bed cold frame hosted Jimmy Nardello peppers this summer, and some are still alive and turning red amongst a flotilla of parsley leaves.

Black Spanish Radish

This Black Spanish radish, growing large right next to a path, will need to be moved before it sends up its rangy flower head.

Parsnips

Those are All American parsnips under the big floppy leaves, and you can barely see where I pulled three of them for our holiday dinner.

Baby mustard greens

Baby mustard greens are coming in thick under a layer of floating row cover.

Miike Giant mustard

One beautiful leaf from this Miike Giant mustard is enough to spice up a salad or soup.

leek

A stray leek escaped notice among summer plants, and now is full size.

perennial kale

This perennial kale is in its second year and still offering plentiful harvests.

Fava beans

The Broad Windsor fava beans planted on October 30 are poking up cheerily through their protective mulch.

Cabbages

Mystery brassicas: these two volunteers that cropped up among the fall greens are probably cabbages.

Ruby chard

The deep red stems and dusky green leaves of this ruby chard are luxurious among the parsley ground cover.

Purple Sprouting broccoli

The Purple Sprouting broccoli didn’t provide any food for our Thanksgiving meal, but its healthy growth promises early spring abundance.

 

 

Plunge In Pungent Alliums

To paraphrase an old saying: Give a person garlic and they can ward off vampires once; teach a person how to grow garlic, and they will be free of vampires for a lifetime.

Have you planted your garlic yet? I try to get mine in by Halloween, but given our unseasonably warm fall, I think Maritime Northwest gardeners could still get a crop in the ground, unless your garden is in a cold microclimate.

Spanish Roja garlic

Spanish Roja garlic. I save the biggest heads for replanting.

In my Edible Garden column for Edible Seattle’s Sept/Oct issue, I outlined many of the considerations for planting alliums, the genus that includes garlic, onions and shallots. You may still be able to find some of these alliums in nurseries, and all of them would be well worth a try.

Garlic is my favorite, because it comes in so many types and flavors, far more interesting than the typical white supermarket variety. Look for unique varieties that are spicy or sweet, with cloves striped in red or purple. Learn all about types and varieties from Filaree Garlic Farm.

See my earlier article Cloves in Bed, All is Well on the steps to planting garlic.

The onions you’d find now in the nurseries would be seedlings, small groups of grass-like starts growing in soil. Try Walla Walla Sweet, if you can get it, as they do well in our climate.

Seedlings are different from onion sets or bunches, traditionally sold in the spring. Sets are baby onion bulbs that are sold dry, and will come to life and grow after planting. Bunches are small plants that had been started the previous fall and dug from their bed before being banded together and sold by the dozen in the spring.

As we near the end of the gardening year, consider where in your garden these spicy spikes might go, see if you can find any in the nurseries or buy some from a farmers market stand, and get them in the soil as soon as possible.

Cover the soil with a loose mulch like straw to soften the winter rains, and watch for the little allium spikes to break ground early next year, signifying the start of another gardening season. I guarantee that you’ll be vampire-free.

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