The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

February garden update

Kale in JanuaryI've been a bit quiet on the garden front lately because now is really the time for dreaming, not for growing.  But the garden is actually in much better shape than any previous winter garden I've been in charge of, so I thought I'd take you on a quick tour.

It's quite possible to have some greens and lettuce even in the dead of winter around here as long as you start them in the early fall and the deer don't get them.  In previous years, the deer have always eaten my greens to the ground, but Mark's deer deterrents are worth their weight in gold!  This year we still have some kale and mustard hanging on --- just enough to put half a cup in potstickers every week or two.  (No lettuce because I planted it late and didn't get it up to speed in time.)

Parsley in JanuaryI've always read that you can eat parsley all winter, but the deer adore it so I've never had it later than August.  As a result, I've never even bothered to plant it in the sunny half of the garden (where I put the plants which will grow on warm winter days.)  Nevertheless, my small bed emerged from the snow a week or so ago green and beautiful!  The plants tend to have short stalks in the cold, but the leaves are delicious --- perfect for adding a bit of freshness to tuna or egg salad or soups.
Egyptian onions in January
Of course, no winter garden is complete without scads of Egyptian onions.  I planted a couple of beds of them, and then tried to compost the extras, which meant I instead spread volunteer onions all over the yard.  You can never have too many, though --- I put the fresh green tops into omelets and egg salad and cut up the entire onions into soups.

Meanwhile, inside, we still have enough sweet potatoes and garlic for several months, though the carrots are beginning to reach the bottom quarter of the drawer and we've only got three butternut squash left.  The freezer is still full of the bounty of the summer, and the only vegetables we buy in the store are potatoes and onions (because our crops were disappointing this year.)  And now it's February, and time to plant the first lettuce bed!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Down here, with no snow cover and several ten degree nights, I'm again picking small central leaves from romaine lettuce planted last August. Endive is the hardiest green and is good raw or wilted. Although the greens are frozen back, turnips are still delicious when pulled. Spinach plants survived and are putting out new leaves. The cabbage was badly frosted but has enough salvageable for coleslaw and cooked cabbage. Red onions I planted too late last spring are great in salads. Lettuce in my frame planted in October is big enough to pick.
Comment by Errol Mon Feb 1 07:37:32 2010
Actually, I think I still have some carrots and parsnips under the snow (the ones that I figured were too small to dig in the fall.) Once we eat our way through the ones in the fridge, I'll have to dig them up and see if they're still there!
Comment by anna Mon Feb 1 08:53:12 2010

This is a traditional Dutch winter dish called "boerenkool stamppot" (lit. farmer's cabbage mashpot).

  • Peel 2 lb of potatos, and cut them into 1/4" slices.
  • Cut up around 1 lb of kale.
  • Take a big cooking pot with a lid and a heavy bottom (so it spreads the heat evenly).
  • Put in the potato slices, and around 1/2 pint of water or stock.
  • Put the cut kale on top.
  • Put the lid on, and bring to a boild on high heat.
  • Once the lid starts to "dance" (the water is boiling), reduce to low heat.
  • Cook for around 25-30 minutes. Take off the lid. If there's still some water in it, let it steam out.
  • Mash it all together with some butter and a little milk.
  • Season with black pepper and salt according to taste.

It is traditionally eaten with "rookworst" (smoked sausage?) and gravy. In the Netherlands, the kale is considered best when there's been frost on the ground before it's harvested.

If you replace the kale with 1/2 the amount of sliced onions, and 1/2 the amount of sliced carrots, you have "hutspot".

Both are very good winter food. If you've eaten a big plate of either, you won't feel hungry for a while. :-) You can save the leftovers and heat them up another day. Actually, both tend to taste better after they've stood for a day.

Comment by Roland Smith Mon Feb 1 15:11:34 2010
Thanks for that recipe --- I'll have to give it a shot! In the U.S., the winter crops are often overlooked nowadays since it's so easy to get tomatoes and peppers in the store all winter. It sounds like you have a great tradition of eating the winter crops still alive!
Comment by anna Mon Feb 1 15:56:05 2010
we have some kale that is 4 years old, should start leafing out for its 5th season of production soon.
Comment by brett Mon Feb 1 16:49:29 2010
You must live somewhere very warm! What else is out in your garden now?
Comment by anna Mon Feb 1 16:57:16 2010
Warm climate? We once had broccoli last two seasons at the farm in Virginia.
Comment by Errol Wed Feb 3 13:32:30 2010
But two seasons is different from 5 years!! That means they never had a really cold winter in all that time. (I'm still hoping last fall's broccoli will leaf back out. I see hints of green on it and actually built my lettuce bed around it just in case. Only time will tell....)
Comment by anna Wed Feb 3 19:41:46 2010

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