Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How does your (winter) garden grow?

After perusing the Frau's latest garden musings, I felt compelled to get my garden cap on. The seed books are coming out - and Baker Creek's is a piece of art this year! - and the garden jones is coming back slowly...

This is my first year to plant a fall/winter garden and I think I learned a few things...

1) Start earlier. Trust the planting dates. Even if it's 106 degrees outside. I started most of my stuff in mid-late September and it didn't have enough time to mature.

From what I gather the plants are supposed to be full size by the time it's cold, cold, cold. Call me dense, I'm just now putting this together. That way, the garden acts like a form of cold storage, keeping your (now dormant) carrots, parsnips, cabbages, turnips, etc. freshly bedded in a pile of leaves. Aha moment for me!

What I have, conversely, is about 20 mid-sized broccoli plants (the overwintering variety) who are hanging on quite well, a few smallish cabbages, some tiny parsnips, a bunch of lovely (and correctly cultured) prepubescent garlic, some fava beans that are putting up a helluva fight, some spinach and small kale plants, and some teeny, tiny leeks that will probably be the world's most all-weathered vegetables by the time this winter is over. Between two frost blankets, a tarp, and a few upside down planters acting as cloches, we're making it through. It got down to 10 degrees while we were away for the holidays, but everything seems to have pulled through (although the fava beans look like they need to be in the vegetal ICU).

So I'm hoping that all of my covering is not for want and that I'll be able to see these plantlings into the spring, at which point - I'm crossing my fingers here! - they'll pick up where they left off and produce me something or other...Or perhaps I'm in denial of biology, physics, and the earth's natural cycles and all I'll have to show for it is a bunch of deep green leaves. Either way, it's been a learning experience. (And I could probably survive on the deep green leaves if I needed to!) I will definitely have garlic, though. Hallelujah!

I tried something new with the broccoli this year, too. When I thinned it out, I replanted the 6-inch thinnings and all but one took. So no waste! Hopefully it will make it through the winter and give me some early spring broccoli shoots! The weather's been sunny and warm the past few days, so who knows...

I used the last of my fresh peppers yesterday when I made a big pot of black bean soup (very simple - just 1 lb beans, soaked and cooked with 2 diced onions, 4 garlic cloves, some chicken/vegetable stock, hot peppers to taste, served with hard-cooked eggs, green onions, and lemon juice. YUM!) The pepper plant didn't give up the ghost until early December, I think, when the garden went down hard (all the frost blankets in the world probably wouldn't have saved them!). I still have a few tired looking tomatoes that have ripened slowly since that time. And 10 or so butternut squash out in the garage. Not bad.

Still have yet to decide what to purchase/try this year. I still have a bunch of seed left over from last season plus all the seed I saved. Still though, I want to try some different hot peppers. I don't want as much okra. I'm going to try cowpeas over our fence (let them duke it out with the morning glories) since they last all the way through the major hot summers...Ah, garden dreams! I can't wait!