07 February 2013

Growing Food in the Winter

Most years, we grow in our garden for three seasons and the take the coldest months off. But since we have been eating vegan and juicing regularly, we have gone to gardening all four seasons. Organic produce is expensive anytime, but is particularly so in the winter when everything is imported from warmer climes. So we have cut our grocery costs substantially by growing our own leafy greens ad root crops.

We live in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Our winters are mild in comparison to those who live in the north, but even in the north, with a little inexpensive shelter, some produce may be grown to keep fresh stuff on the table and to help with grocery bills. Even here in the south, our temperatures get down into the teens at times during the winter, so we have to chose what we grow in the winter months carefully.
There are may heirloom and open pollinated varieties of vegetables that can be grow in the winter. At the moment, I have these growing in my garden: Blue Scotch Kale, Mixed Wild Kale, Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach, Tatsoi, Bok Choi, Turnips, Lollo Rosso, Black Seeded Simpson and Cos Romaine Lettuces, Escarole, Russia Red Mustard, Bright Lights Swiss Chard,Jersey Wakefield Cabbage and Fava Beans. All but the lettuces are just planted out in the garden. The lettuces are under a green house tunnel to give them a little extra protection and solar heat. All of these vegetables will withstand cold temps., frost and intermittent freezes, as a matter of fact the kale is sweeter with a frost or two under its belt!. A few nights ago, it was 19 degrees over night with a heavy frost in the early hours. The plants were all covered with frost, and were frozen solid. When I went to pick some kale for my morning green drink, and the kale I snipped shattered in my hand since it was frozen. But when the sun came up and the temps. rose above freezing the plants were all fine. Some of the older leaves on the turnips and swiss chard looked a little wilted, but that was the worst of it.

Kale is frozen solid and frosted over, but is sweeter after a frost or two

This bed has Blue Scotch kale, Wild Mix kale, Tatsoi Oriental greens,and  Bloomsdale spinach

A bed of Jersey Wakefield Cabbages are almost ready to be made into sauerkraut

a greenhouse tunnel made from PVC pipe and 6 mil plastic gives Lollo Rosso, Cos Romaine and Black seeded Simpson lettuces some protection from the harshest weather and raises the temp enough to insure good growth.

It is possible to grow winter crops out of doors even if you don't have room for a garden in your yard, or if you live in an apartment and have no ground at all. Many winter veggies will grow quite happily in containers on sunny porch, deck, balcony or tucked up against a south or west facing foundation wall. They are easy to grow, have no pests in the winter and require only a minimal amount of care. Lettuce and other greens have shallow roots can be grown in flower boxes, or even re purposed rain gutters. Deeper rooted plants like  as well as beets, carrots, turnips, cabbage and brussel sprouts will grow beautifully in two gallon buckets with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. I like to plant cabbages and pansies together in oak tubs as a practical, eatable yard ornament.

Beyond growing winter vegetable outside, there are a wide variety of nutritious, tasty, easy ways to grow food on your kitchen counter. Many bean and vegetable seeds can be sprouted in jars and consumed in salads and on sandwiches, as well as added to things like sushi, fresh spring rolls and as topping for tacos. I keep a steady supply going of clover, radish, broccoli, mung and lentil sprouts; which add interest, taste and texture to many of the foods we eat every day. Sprouts are a powerhouse of nutrition, take less than a square foot of counter space, and very little effort to grow.

Left: Mixed salad sprouts with anasazi, garbanzo and mung beans, Middle: mung beans Right: clover seed

Each item that you grow at home is an item that doesn't have to be bought at a premium at the grocery store. For example, yesterday I went out to the garden and picked a basketful of curly kale, I pinched a handful of parsley, harvested two turnips and cut the a third of the greens tops off a few of my fall planted onions. I used the parsley and onion tops in tabbouleh for noshing on this week, I made a dressed kale, turnip and grapefruit salad for lunch, and for dinner I used the last of my sweet potatoes, turnip greens and the rest of the turnip root that wasn't used in the lunch salad, to make a delicious plate of lightly steamed turnips and greens topped with sweet potato hummus and pistachios.

Kale, Turnip and Grapefruit Salad with Miso Dressing and Steamed Turnip greens with Sweet Potato Hummus

 If I had gone to the store rather than the garden to get my produce, I would have paid $1.50 for a bunch of parsley, 99 cents for a bundle of green onions, $3.99 for a bundle of commercially grown kale, at least 3.99 for the turnips, and another $2-3 for the turnip greens, (which are sold separately from the turnips), $2.50 for sprouts to top the tabbouleh. By picking a few things out of my garden and building meals around them I saved my grocery budget more than $15.97 for one day's meals,   ( I didn't price out the sweet potatoes, since I have no idea what they sell for so the savings was more than what I calculated). If I had quoted the price for organic produce, the savings would have been higher. If I go one step further than that and guesstimate that I use on the conservative side, $10 a day from my garden, then in a month I would have saved $300 dollars by growing my own produce this winter. Actually, the savings would be higher, since we juice at least six bunches of greens, (a mixture of kale, spinach, oriental veggies, and chard or beet tops), every week in addition to our regular meals.

It is well worth the time and effort in dollars and cents to grow your own produce, even in the winter. But the biggest reason for doing so is that you have the freshest, purest,most nutritious and the tastiest food possible to feed those who gather around your table.

                              Kale, Turnip and Grapefruit Salad
                                          with Miso Dressing
For Salad
1 bunch Curly Kale, washed well and spun dry
2 medium sized turnips
1 ruby red grapefruit, section and reserve juice, (be sure to squeeze all the juice out of the membranes after sectioning)
1/2 red onion
1 handful of Craisins
pinch of nigella seed or black sesame seed
For Dressing
Reserved Grapefruit juice
Enough  Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar to bring grapefruit juice up to 1/3 cup
1/3 extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
2 Tbsp. uma plum vinegar (or substitute with balsamic vinegar)
1/4 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. hemp seed ( if you don't have it on hand it is OK without it, the dressing will just not be quite as creamy)
1 Tbsp. white miso (or barley miso if you prefer it to be richer)
1-2 cloves garlic, (depending on how much you like garlic)
1 Tbsp. honey or agave

Place all ingredients in personal rocket blender, (or in regular blender if you don't have a personal blender), blend until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust oil/acid balance, by adding a little more oil or more acid depending on what you think it needs. Only1/3 cup of this dressing is needed to for kale salad, but it keep a very long time in the fridge and can be used on regular salads or just kept on hand for the kale salad if you end up making it more than once. This salad dressing or a variation there of, is what we normally use on our dinner salads. It is full flavored, with a nice tang. You won't need to use much since it has a lot of flavor and sticks well to greens, so the dressing doesn't end up in the bottom of the bowl.

Cut the kale into thin strips. Slice the red onion thinly and toss with kale to distribute. With a latex gloved hand, gently "massage" 1/4 to 1/3 cup of dressing little at a time into kale and onions, to distribute the dressing. Only add enough to coat the leaves. Thinly slice the turnip, with a mandolin, ( if you don't have a mandolin then shave thin slices off with a vegetable peeler). Add turnip slices and grapefruit sections and toss gently with tongs to distribute. Sprinkle the top of the salad with Craisins and nigella or black sesame seed, (nigella seed can be found in an Indian grocer and it well worth looking for, the oniony peppery flavor really adds a lot to salads. If you can't find the nigella, the black sesame will do...or if you can't find either, the salad will still be good without it). Serve chilled.

 *Elliot Coleman, a four season, sustainable ag farmer, lives in Maine. He and his wife grow fresh produce for sale to restaurants in the dead of winter in Maine. He has written several very good books on the subject of four season gardening, at least one of which focuses on growing food in the winter. If you are interested in hearing more about how he does it, check out his website http://www.fourseasonfarm.com/.

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre
Blog Hops that this post is linked to: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/ , http://frugallysustainable.com/
h,http://thismindbeinyou.blogspot.com/ , http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com, http://deborahjeansdandelionhouse.blogspot.com/2013/02/farmgirl-friday-blog-hop-95.html, 

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