Heirloom Gardener Blogs > Barefoot and Dirty

The Winter Garden

As Halloween draws near and nights get cooler, the time to plant our winter garden grows closer. Here on the coast, winter is when we grow the crops that the rest of the country grows in early spring. Snow peas, sugar snaps, brassicas, lettuce and greens…all are winter crops here. We don’t experience any hard freezes, so our garden continues producing a variety of yummy treats all year.

One project that my husband and I enjoy every winter is our Asian food garden. My son loves Chinese food, so that’s the only garden that excites him. Many Asian vegetables are perfect for cooler weather gardening. In the winter, we grow napa cabbage, bok choy, snow peas, and Thai basil, among others, and one year, we even experimented with button mushrooms (which did quite well and which we will expand upon this winter). My husband was stationed in Japan in the Marines and developed a taste for Japanese food. Udon and soba noodles are a staple in our house, so we like to grow the vegetables to go with them. My recipe for vegetable lo mein follows.

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We also grow our root vegetables such as turnips, beets, carrots and radishes during the winter. We do like a variety of root vegetables. These keep company with lettuce and mustard greens, arugula and winter wheat. Citrus trees can produce all year, so our key lime and meyer lemon do their part. I also typically plant herbs that like cooler temperatures, such as cilantro.

Various greens provide a fresh addition to our winter menus, as well. We grow lettuce, kale, various salad greens, and mustard greens in our winter garden. My husband absolutely love greens, and they can well. A quick and easy lunch is a jar of mustard greens sauteed with onions and bacon.

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Winter gardening, for us, is a particular pleasure. Winter is a rainy season, so we don’t have to haul water to thirsty plants. The soil is moist and pliable instead of hard and cracked. Temperatures are lower, so we can garden into the afternoon without risk of heatstroke (I’m actually being serious this time. It’s a real danger here in the afternoon.). Besides, it’s really nice to go out and cut a fresh salad to accompany Thanksgiving dinner.

Our winter season is short, so we preserve as much as we can during that time. Brassicas begin bolting in early March. Besides, bringing in a big harvest and firing up the stove to can it all is a good way to warm up the kitchen! We all have our favorites. My husband loves bread & butter cauliflower and pickled beets. My daughter likes carrots and salad. My favorite is fresh cilantro chopped up on top of tacos and taco salads. We all love chicken and root veggie casserole. The recipe follows.

This year, we plan to build a cover for our pepper bed to try and overwinter our pepper plants. In their native habitats, peppers can be grown as tender perennials, so we decided to try it for ourselves. It would certainly save time when we start planting our spring garden. We are also planning to try to get another harvest of quick-growing summer squash before the winter weather comes since we are having an unusually warm fall.

So, while the rest of country watches the snow fall and thumbs through seed catalogs, we’re putting on our jackets and heading out to garden. The season is short and we like to make the best of it.

What kind of crops do you like to put in your fall and/or winter garden? I'd love to hear about your garden adventures! firegoddess1970@yahoo.com


Chicken and Root Vegetables

Serves 4

Ingredients:

• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 2 boneless chicken breasts, chopped
• 4 large potatoes, chopped
• 4 parsnips, sliced
• 4 large carrots, sliced
• 2 turnips, chopped
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 8 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
• 2 tsp. chopped fresh basil
• 2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
• 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

Mix all ingredients in a large casserole dish and toss to coat everything evenly. Cover and bake at 400 degrees until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are fork-tender, between 30 and 45 minutes. Good to prepare ahead of time and freeze for later.

Vegetable Lo Mein

Serves 4

Ingredients:

• 12 oz. lo mein noodles, or any thin Chinese egg noodles
• 2 tbsp. sesame oil
• 3 tbsp. soy sauce
• 1-1/2 tbsp. oyster sauce
• 1-1/2 tbsp. Chinese rice wine
• 1-1/2 tsp. honey
• 1 tbsp. peanut oil
• 1-1/2 tsp. minced garlic
• 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
• 3 green onions, sliced
• 6-8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
• 1 medium head of napa cabbage, shredded
• 8 oz. fresh snow peas, trimmed

1. Prepare noodles according to directions on package until al dente. Drain noodles and rinse under cold water. Drain again, shaking off all excess water. Return noodles to pot and toss with sesame oil until well coated. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice wine, and honey. Mix well, and set aside.

3. Heat wok over high heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Add peanut oil. Add garlic, ginger and green onions. Stir-fry about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add cabbage and stir-fry until wilted, about 3-4 minutes.

4. Add noodles, sauce and snow peas and toss well. Cook, stirring, until peas are bright green but still crisp, and everything is heated through. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!