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Winter greens varieties

Swiss chardAlthough leafy greens aren't as sexy as tomatoes, they make up the majority of our fresh diet for about six months of the year, so I figured it was worth trying to find the best varieties for our garden.  Here are the greens we're experimenting with this year.

Swiss Chard: Fordhook Giant --- I've never thought of Swiss chard as being very cold hardy, but I recently read that Fordhook Giant is more tolerant of cold weather than the colored stalk varieties I've grown in previous years.  Unlike the other greens detailed below, which were planted in August or September just for winter eating, this Swiss Chard was planted in the spring and eaten all through the summer.

KaleKale: Winterbor, Improved Dwarf Siberian, and Red Russian --- Kale is our favorite winter green since it tends to last the longest and taste the sweetest, so I'm trying out three varieties reputed to be especially cold hardy.  I have one data point so far --- the Improved Dwarf Siberian barely came up in the earliest planted bed, so perhaps it can't germinate in hot soil.

Tatsoi

Tokyo bekanaTatsoi --- Germination seemed to be a bit spotty during the summer heat, but the plants that came up spread out quickly to cover all of the soil.  I really enjoy the almost cabbage-like shape of this Asian green, and the way it doesn't give any space for weeds to grow.

Tokyo bekana
--- The earliest planting (August 2) of this Asian green is starting to bolt, which doesn't bode well, but Mark and I enjoy the taste.

Mustard greens

Hakurei turnipMustard: Giant, Broadleaf, and Tendergreen --- Neither Mark nor I are big fans of spice, so mustard is our least favorite green for flavor.  However, I have to admit that mustard grows better in our fall garden than any other species (although in the past, it has died back much sooner than kale.)  I didn't research mustard as thoroughly as some of the other types of greens, just planting the varieties offered at our local feed store.

Turnip, Hakurei --- This small turnip is meant to be plucked at about the stage you see in the photo, then eaten with the tender tubers chopped up and mixed with the greens.  We haven't tried any yet, but will soon.

We'll decide on the best greens using two different metrics --- cold hardiness and flavor.  The best way to select for extreme cold hardiness is to leave your plants uncovered until temperatures drop down around 25, but we'll be erecting quick hoops this week.  Despite the protection, I think we'll see differences in how long plants grow through the winter and whether they last until spring.

A taste test is called for to decide on the most flavorful greens.  So far, I've just been mixing up pots of a bit of this and that, which is very tasty, but doesn't tell me which varieties fit our palates best.  Now that we've had several frosts to sweeten the greens, I'll pick a day to cook up a little bit of each one and have a greens tasting.  The question is, should I cook them up the way I usually do --- sauteed with a bit of oil and balsamic vinegar --- or just steam them lightly so that the distinctive flavor of each variety is most evident?

Our chicken waterer is easy to convert to a heated waterer that will keep your flock well hydrated through the winter.


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You left out my favorite--collard greens! Here in SC, folks mix up seeds for kale, turnips, rape, mustard, beet and broadcast them thick in narrow beds. I think the mixture is better than any individual green. I would suspect that the nutrition from the mixture is better than from any single green.

A good winter meal is to saute greens with onions and garlic and serve over pasta.

Comment by Errol Mon Oct 31 08:32:19 2011
I think you should try them three ways- raw, steamed, and sauteed. (I am a big fan of some raw greens myself)
Comment by Eric in Japan Mon Oct 31 09:34:28 2011

I've never been a fan of cooked greens. However, since I'm trying to create a homestead, it is time that we try to work it into our meals. We have mustard greens growing, but they are meant to be used as salads.

I guess it is probably too late to get any other greens growing, huh? I'm just up here in Maryland. We had a killing frost this morning.

Comment by Fritz Mon Oct 31 09:42:37 2011
I also grew up eating the kind of greens mix Errol mentions. As far as taste goes, I think the key to enjoying greens is what you eat them with. The flavor alone is not a draw for me but they taste just perfect when eaten with beans and cornbread.
Comment by Lisa Mon Oct 31 12:57:22 2011

It seems like people are very interested in greens --- exciting to see so many comments about something I thought was a bit dull. :-)

Daddy --- I probably should have added collards to our trial list. I tend to think of them as not quite as tasty as kale and not growing quite as well as mustard, so I don't plant them, but it's been a few years since I gave them a try. I like doing plantings separately, but agree that mixtures do taste the best (and probably do provide different nutrients, especially if you mix families by including swiss chard or spinach with the crucifers.)

Eric --- Good idea! Good point about raw trials. My brother told me about a kale salad he had eaten last winter and we tried one when the kale was very sweet and were blown away. I should probably make more raw greens dishes.

Fritz --- You might find you love them if you grow them yourself and eat them fresh. I thought I didn't like about 2/3 of the things we now grow until we grew them ourselves. As long as you go into eating from your garden with an open mind, you're probably in for some delicious surprises.

Unfortunately, it's much too late to be planting greens. I plant them in August and September since they have to get well established before the hard frosts.

Lisa --- I used to agree with you about hiding the greens in something else, but as I mentioned above, once I started eating good greens, I realized I loved their own flavor!

Comment by anna Mon Oct 31 19:04:42 2011
I LOOOOVE Tokyo Bekana! I can't believe how good it tastes with just a dab of dressing. Do you happen to know if it is open pollinated? I want to save the seeds next year. Thanks.
Comment by Paula B. Mon Oct 31 19:22:46 2011

Greens are waaay more sexy than tomatoes...IMHO.

Adding a tablespoon of miso into a pot of cooked greens (after they're cooked, just add and stir around) is awesome.

Cooked greens in place of spinach in spanokopita is awesome, too. If you have lots of greens but not lots of people who love greens this is a good way to use it because the chz adds other flavours and the puff pastry changes the texture.

Greens rock.

Comment by J Mon Oct 31 20:42:10 2011

Paula --- It just so happens that I saved tokyo bekana seedsthis spring. Check that link to see the species they cross-pollinate with, which would be your only problem.

J --- You made me laugh saying that greens are more sexy than tomatoes --- spoken like a true homesteader. :-)

Thanks for the cooking ideas! I haven't tried anything like either of those, and we do end up getting sick of my favorite methods in a month or two and need to mix it up....

Comment by anna Tue Nov 1 07:52:44 2011
My winter greens are doing good for the most part here in Ohio. Right now, I just have row cover over them. I'm going to be building a hoophouse. I tried Tatsoi for the first time. I didn't know it would get that big. The small leaves taste kind of grassy with a mustard type kick. I like them. My absolute favorite green is arugula. MMMMMM. I planted mache, but I'm not sure if any are coming up yet. I've heard it's a slow grower. I planted two varieties of spinach and only one has done anything. Lots of beets, kale, mustard, turnips, chards. The taste is just more intense in the colder months. Love it!!!
Comment by JeffJustJeff Wed Nov 2 18:27:53 2011

Our tatsoi sweetened up after a couple of heavy frosts and suddenly became one of my favorite greens yesterday. Wow! Delicious! You're so right about tastes intensifying with greens at this time of year

I like arugula too, although it's a bit strong for me unless I mix it in with other greens. Generally, I add a bit to salad.

Comment by anna Thu Nov 3 11:08:19 2011

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime