It's almost the Winter Solstice and the temperature has been near 20 degrees on many nights, but, we're still harvesting food and flavor from our garden. Hardly a day passes that we don't pick greens or herbs to brighten up a meal. This is true even in a year when other projects and the drought severely limited our garden success.
The broccoli we planted in June is producing its third or fourth set of buds. They're small but numerous on each plant. Red Russian kale, as usual, is a real standout. Although it is frozen solid on cold nights, its leaves are beautiful again once the temperature rises. We sowed this kale in May and again in late August. Both plantings have large leaves which are good in soups and stir fries and smaller, more tender leaves which we use on sandwiches and in salads. The frosts have improved their flavor. We even have Brussels sprouts. They struggled by without irrigation during the long dry summer, barely growing. But, after a warm fall with plenty of rain, they've got enough of those little cabbages for several holiday meals. These three vegetables, members of the brassica family, provide lots of fresh vitamins, minerals and important anti-cancer nutrients in our diet.
Hardy arugula and self-seeded mustards bring zip to sandwiches and stir fries. A few plants provide all of these greens that we need. And, it was only a few weeks ago that we used up the last of the fall lettuce.
During the holidays, when cooking and celebratory meals are so important, it's great to have herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme growing in the garden. Suzanne likes to use fresh parsley in almost every meal she makes because it is so delicious and full of vitamins. One plant each of sage, rosemary and thyme should provide all of those herbs that anyone can use. We harvest fresh sprigs of thyme or leaves of sage practically year round from our small planting. Rosemary needs to come inside before the ground freezes in order to survive the winter. Oregano as well as garlic and regular chives also provide flavor almost year round. vThe educational garden on the south side of Suzanne's Bridgeport school is still producing, too. This week her students harvested enough greens to have a salad party. The fifth-graders picked kale, tatsoi, mitzuna, curly red and buttercrunch lettuces, lambs quarters, radishes and beautiful spinach all planted in September. They enjoyed eating the salad they'd grown.
These vegetables at home and school have grown without any protection from the cold. It helps that we haven't had any significant snow. Before global warming, there might have been a foot of the white stuff on the ground by now. To protect against the snow and cold, many gardeners use one layer of glass or plastic over these hardy vegetables to create a cold frame. Besides protection from adverse weather, these little greenhouses also capture the sun's heat. Author and farmer Eliot Coleman has designed simple systems using cold frames and larger unheated greenhouses which allow him to harvest fresh vegetables all year round even in Maine.
Whether you grow just a few herbs or fill a cold frame with hardy greens, there are important health, environmental and flavor benefits from eating December's garden harvest.
If you'd like information about extending your harvest season with hardy vegetables and simple cold frames, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to December Harvest, WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
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