Giving Thanks for My Winter Garden

A miniature forest of salad greens. Chittering songbirds cleaning the remaining bugs off my Lacinato kale trees. Delightful late-blooming flowers. Seedlings protected for winter growth. This is my garden at Thanksgiving.

Calendula flowering

Calendula is still flowering, providing a cheery spot in the garden and in the salad bowl.

Salad greens

Mixed salad greens, including arugula, bok choi, tatsoi, lettuce and Asian mustards are flourishing in this bed, and getting mowed down regularly for salads.

Tatsoi

Tatsoi.

Birds on kale

Sparrows, black-capped chickadees and a rosy finch (obscured, center) gather for a meal of bugs on my Lacinato/palm tree kale.

cabbages and broccoli

Cabbages and broccoli, with one cabbage covered.

Covered cabbage

I’m experimenting with winter growth of a cabbage under cover inside this giant water bottle. There’s another one uncovered right next to it.

cauliflower

Cauliflower setting its head.

Broccoli shoots

This DeCiccio broccoli might yet put on some side shoots.

Broccoli and tunnel

A purple sprouting broccoli and some winter radishes grow in front of a fleece-covered tunnel containing spinach.

Kale and trellis

Lacinato/palm tree kale plants grow against a bamboo trellis which held up cherry tomato plants last summer.

giant collards

Giant walking stick collards are ready to eat.

Pot and apple tree

A pot of spinach covered in garden fleece sits in front of an espaliered Akane apple tree that still has its leaves.

Spinach in pot

Red Kitten spinach grows with seedlings of parlsey and flowers in a pot.

Brussels sprouts kale hybrid

New hybrids of Brussels sprouts and kale promise a harvest of budding florets along the stem.

The first florets coming from the Brussels sprouts/kale hybrid.

Carrots and cold frame

The last of the fall carrot crop sits in front of a cold frame made of two window sashes, wired together. The easy cold frame holds overwintering turnips.

Cover crops

Cover crop of clover, vetch and rye helps build soil on this bed over the winter.

Visit from the Snow Gardener

We woke up to a few inches of snow today and it was still coming, so I ventured out into the yard and found that we’d been visited by a snow gardener. Clearly as ready to plant as I am.

snowgardener1

snowgardener2

snowgardener3

snow gardener 4

Results of Extended Cold Spell

Sunny, cold days have been the norm in Seattle for a number of weeks, which is “unseasonal” for us here in the Maritime Northwest. And it’s having a punishing effect on my overwintering edibles.

Starting with a snowstorm the second week of December, we’ve had what I’d call a hard winter, as “hard” relates to frost and freeze, that is. Many nights in the low 20s or even teens, and days when the thermometer barely tops 32. Freezing.

The effect has been mixed, according to today’s survey, done in balmy 42-degree sunshine. I opened the zippered front of the long plastic cloche, expecting to find slimy messes where my lettuce and radicchio starts were living, along with a seeded bed of mustard greens. Across the path, floating row cover blanketed a bed seeded with corn salad (mache). All had been alive after that December snowstorm, but I hadn’t uncovered these areas in weeks. Here is my delightful find:

salad cloche

Mustard greens have sprouted in the first bay of the cloche, and in the back two, Winter Density lettuce and Palla Rossa radicchio are standing tall. To the right of the path is thickly sown Vit corn salad.

You’re looking at Winter Density lettuce and Palla Rossa radicchio under the cloche, and Vit corn salad sprouted densely on the right, where the corner of the floating row cover has been removed. Definitely winners in a harsh environment. The existing leaves probably wouldn’t be desirable, but they provide a good base for new growth, which will find its way into late winter salads.

The cloche, which doesn’t look like it would provide much protection, is also a winner. It’s sitting on a raised bed made of stone, which helps radiate heat back into the bed, and I’ve placed stones in bare spots within the cloche to add to that effect.

However, a trek to the back 40 brought down my mood a bit. The purple sprouting broccoli has been shivering with just a smattering of straw mulch around its stems. It had bounced back after the snow melted in mid-December, but since then it’s been in severe retreat due to the cold nights. I should have covered it, but went away for Christmas, when the first cold nights really set in, and by the time I returned I figured it was too late. The cold has continued, with a brief letup, and I hope for the best. But here’s what it looks like right now:

PS Broccoli

“PS” might stand for pretty sad instead of purple sprouting in this bed of broccoli, but who knows, it may recover. Stay tuned as the weather warms.

Behind the broccoli, though, are two A-frame cloches, one covering carrots and the other beets. Although the edges of the cloches are frozen into the crusty soil, I can see green leaves through both of them, giving me hope that these two root crops are hanging in there.

beet and carrot cloches

I haven’t opened these cloches yet – their edges are frozen into the soil – but the beets (left) and carrots (right) still have good greenery.

Speaking of the crusty ground, it needs to be pried open like a stuck car-door in order to rescue a parsnip or two. But it’s worth the effort, as those roots have been nice and sweet.

Other above-ground plants have not fared well. A bed of parsley in an open cold frame is matted against the soil, although might recover. Slimy mounds that once were ruby chard hold less hope. Onions and celery root look OK, but haven’t been pulled yet. Kale, usually a staple in our winter garden, is suffering.

Taking stock of the successes and failures, I can see things I should have done: more mulch around the broccoli, maybe a floating row cover or cloche over it. Definitely much more protection over the poor chard. But just keeping myself warmly clothed on my rare forays out into the crisp weather has been enough of a challenge. I’ll chalk it up to experience and hope the broccoli will finally bounce back. Warmer weather is on the way; this week’s forecast is for high 40s daytime, and mid-30s overnight. I’m ready.

empty bucket

My harvest bucket is pretty empty on a mid-winter walk through the frosty garden landscape.

Snow Blankets My Winter Garden

I’m a bit late in posting these images, but here are some photos of the snow day we had in Seattle last Thursday, Dec. 8. Up here on Phinney Ridge (about 300 feet above sea level) we got perhaps two inches of snow, which lasted about a day, until the rains returned.

Here’s how my winter vegetables looked under that fluffy white quilt, and one post-snow shot that shows how they fared.

A long tunnel cloche holds salad greens in my front garden.

carrots in cold frame

Carrots tops under the Triangle Tunnel cold frame peek perkily past the plastic.

The Brussels sprout leaves droop but will bounce back. Not so sure about the shungiku flowers behind.

Snowy garden

A plastic cloche holding beets, the Triangle Tunnel protecting carrots, and the unprotected Purple Sprouting broccoli in snow.

Garden after snow

The beets and carrots are fine under their cloches, and the broccoli bounced right back after curling up to protect itself from the cold snap.

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.

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