Category Archives: Garden Advice

Fresh Greens to Harvest from Fall through Winter

Spinach with Leaf Mulch
Spinach with Leaf Mulch

By Ira Wallace

Fall and winter offer a second chance to grow all the delicious greens and wonderful roots we savor in spring. They’re even easier to grow, thanks to decreasing weed pressure and reduced need to water. Many winter greens, like kale, collards, and spinach, even taste sweeter in fall as they concentrate sugars to withstand colder temperatures.

Our garden is brimming with greens ready for harvest now, as well as younger plants that we won’t harvest until early spring when they will grow rapidly as the days begin to lengthen.

Elliot Coleman coined the term “Persephone Days” for the period when there is less than 10 hours a day of sunlight and plant growth slows to a halt. Typically November 21st through January  21st, or a little longer due of outside ground temperatures. So what you see in the garden now is what you get until early February for practical purposes, unless you are growing under cover in a greenhouse, cold frame or low tunnel.

With an extended drought and weeks of record breaking highs, 2016 was a really tough year for establishing our fall crops. In many cases we had to do a third succession planting to get the beds full of thriving plants. In the case of spinach and kale, our last and most successful sowing was in early October. For an idea of what and when we sow most years read our blog post on Summer Sowing: Continuous Harvest All Summer into Fall or look at our Southern Exposure Fall and Winter Growing Guide.

So let’s take a look at some of what we have green and growing in the garden on “Black Friday Weekend 2016”:

vates collards
vates collards

Kale, collards, and spinach are our largest plantings for winter greens because of their versatility in the kitchen and dependable winter hardiness. Because our earliest succession plantings had spotty germination we have a lot more plants from the later sowings. Luckily for us the unusually warm temperatures continued into November so we have nice full beds of Abundant Bloomsdale spinach and Lacinato Rainbow kale going into December. Fortunately half grown ”juvenile” plants often survive the winter and last longer into the spring. In addition to the heat and drought our collards were also attacked by grasshoppers in August so the remaining plants are smaller than usual at this time. Heirloom collards are survivors so I expect they will do well and start vigorous growth again in early spring.

tatsoi rosette
tatsoi rosette

We have already harvested many of our oriental greens for stir-frying and to make Kimchee, but our Tatsoi greens are still looking and tasting great. In winter we enjoy the shiny dark green leaves in salads, stir-frys and soups. One interesting thing with the spotty germination on some of our early sowings is how large the plants can get in fall and still be sweet and tender.

creasy greens
creasy greens

Another favorite green for us and many others in our region are Creasy Greens and their cousin from grower Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds in the Northwest, Belle Isle Cress. They are lightly spicy and crisp in winter. Take care as they will naturalize if left in the garden to produce seed.

Let’s not forget Arugula, another winter salad favorite.

lettuce in the hoophouse at Twin Oaks
lettuce in the hoophouse at Twin Oaks

We also grow a lot of winter lettuce. I especially like red varieties for the deep color they develop in winter. Outredgeous and the Wild Garden Lettuce mix are favorites that have been joined by the heirloom Crawford, a Texas winter salad Lettuce.

We still have some winter roots in the ground: carrots, beets, salsify, parsnip and winter radishes. We have potatoes and sweet potatoes in storage.

Maybe we can look at what we still have canned, dried, fermented and frozen sometime soon. Until then enjoy your garden.

Squash Souffle, 2 styles

Have you ever wondered what to do with winter squash that still haven’t gotten completely ripe when frost hits?  Seed grower and heirloom advocate Rodger Winn told us about a family recipe for squash souffle while we visited his farm one summer.Jul2015 (811) making squash souffle from int stage Mrs Amer prcsd

It starts with intermediate-maturity squash.Jul2015 (806) making squash souffle from intermediate stage Mrs A prcsd

Most squash recipes call for either winter squash, which are harvested at full seed maturity, or summer squash, which are harvested when the seeds are just beginning to develop.  Most squash varieties that are bred for use as summer squash, if allowed to get to the stage of seed maturity, will be unappetizing.  However, most squash that are bred to be winter squash, if you harvest them when the seeds are just beginning to mature, are a wonderful substitute for regular summer squash.  They’re also quite tasty in-between.

When your squash plants are on their last leg and many of the leaves have died, it’s not hard to find a squash that’s still immature; they’re just easy to see. And, when your first fall frost is around the corner and you’re doing your annual winter squash harvest, you’re bound to find a few immature fruits along with the mature ones. If the peel is tough,  you’ll need to peel them. If the seeds are tough, you’ll need to scoop them out.  (The seeds are likely to be tough unless the squash is just barely past the summer squash stage, but, depending on the variety, the skin might remain tender much longer.)

Irena’s Squash Souffle

I really liked the sound of Rodger’s recipe, but I didn’t remember the details, and I often don’t have the patience to measure ingredients.  Here’s how I made a squash souffle that my housemates and I really enjoyed.

Jul2015 (808) making squash souffle from intermediate stage Mrs A prcsdJul2015 (810) making squash souffle from intermediate stage Mrs a prcsdFirst, I cut an intermediate-stage Mrs. Amerson’s squash into big chunks. Mrs. Amerson’s is a moschata type, and I’m pretty confident that other squash in the moschata species, such as Seminole and Butternut, would produce very similar results.

I removed the seeds and the parts of the peel that were tough.  I sliced the squash thinly.  It wouldn’t all fit in one frying pan, so I put it in two. Those frying pans mostly gets used for savory dishes, but I didn’t worry about how their seasoning would affect this dish.

I let the squash cook a bit, stirring occasionally, while I beat about 10 eggs, then mixed them with about 5 cups of milk and about 2 cups of evaporated cane juice (i.e., sugar, but not as processed as most white or brown sugars).  I poured the mixture over the squash, sprinkled it with nutmeg, covered it, and cooked on low heat until the surface was solid.Jul2015 (812) making squash souffle from int stage Mrs Amer prcsd

I enjoy strong flavors, so the next morning as I was enjoying my squash souffle for the second time, I picked some Anise-Hyssop and Mexican Mint Marigold from the garden to eat with it.Oct2016 (296) squash souffle prcsd

Then, I decided to write this post, so I asked Rodger for the family recipe.  If you want to cook from a recipe, this is probably the one to use.

For Rodger’s South Carolina family, this is a Thanksgiving recipe.  They tend to get their first frost in early November.  Intermediate-maturity squash will keep just fine for a couple of weeks, and sometimes much longer, but won’t keep until spring.

Winn Family Squash Souffle

We use pumpkins that are almost mature but still have a green rind.  If they are too immature the pie will be mushy. Cut the squash lengthwise in 1 in strips and peel. Then slice very thin, about 1/8 in. Layer the slices in a pre baked pie crust till filled. For the custard use 1 or 1 1/2 cups white sugar or unrefined sugar, 2 cups milk, a tsp. of vanilla extract, and 3 eggs. Mix well. This is enough custard for two shallow pies, or one deep dish with a little left over. Then bake at 375 degrees untill set (about 45min to 1hr). Enjoy.

Garden Bloggers Fling 2016: Minneapolis

Two weekends ago I had the great fun of attending the annual Garden Bloggers Fling, held this time in Minneapolis. Turns out Minneapolis is a haven of beautiful gardens.

Community vegetable garden in Minneapolis
Sprawling community vegetable garden in Minneapolis

I was especially impressed by how many pollinator-focused gardens I saw. All over the place, in small neighbourhood yards, along roads, there was milkweed and Echinacea and beebalm and rudbeckia, pollinator heaven.

Minneapolis pollinator garden 2I love photographing the insects themselves, and often find myself stalking them quietly, trying to get close enough for a decent shot without a fancy zoom lens. It makes me feel like a pollinator paparazza.

pink beebalm with bee

Check out the hot pink of this beebalm! It can range from soft lavender to darker purple, red, and as you see, firey pink. Beebalm, a member of the mint family, is a great source of nectar to bees, like the big bumblebee I caught feeding here, as well as butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s a sun-loving, edible perennial, also good for a tea that is soothing to coughs. You can find beebalm as part of our Welcome to the Garden Pollinator Mix.

A delightful mix of beebalm shades.
A delightful mix of beebalm shades.

An annual that I saw less of than many other pollinator-attracting flowers is cleome, or spider flower. Cleome is tall, strikingly pretty, and easy to grow, reseeding itself readily. It attracts birds, bees, and butterflies, but also a critter one might not remember when thinking about pollinators – bats.

cleome

Cleome can come in various pinks, white, or a variegated mixture, like the Queen Mix we carry.

red admiral on echinacea

More pollinator chasing! This is a Red Admiral butterfly feasting on the nectar of an Echinacea blossom, of which I saw a great many all over Minneapolis. The adult butterflies actually prefer tree sap, rotting fruit, and bird droppings, but will settle for flowers. If you’re trying to attract and care for them in your garden, remember to feed the caterpillars too – they like stinging nettle, tall wild nettle, wood nettle, and false nettle.

But perhaps the coolest pollinator-related thing I saw had no flowers or pollinators in it at all. It was the not-yet-open Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. We were privileged to get a sneak preview of this beautiful new building which will house exhibits related to bees and other pollinators and whose primary purpose will be education about the tremendous importance of bees in our food chain and how we can be involved in supporting them. The Discover Center is scheduled to open in September with the main building and exhibits, as well as learning labs where the view through a microscope can be projected onto overhead screens for all to see and kids can participate in various bee-related learning activities. The longer range vision for the 28 acres of land around the Center, if they can get the funding, is to plant demonstration food gardens of varying scales, from backyard size to large farm size, which employ pollinator-friendly cultivation practices.

Read more about the Bee Discovery Center here.

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Are you local to our neck of the woods in Louisa County, VA? We’re hosting our annual Farm Open House and Tomato Tasting on August 20th. Come tour our farm, taste more than 50 varieties of tomatoes, as well as herbs, and have a chance to buy directly from our seed picking room. Email me with an RSVP that says which date you’ll come in order to be entered in a prize drawing! gryphon AT southernexposure.com