I love winter vegetables, but we have seldom managed to grow a good winter garden . The challenge of a winter garden is that you should start thinking about planting winter vegetables in August, when you are drowning in tomatoes and other summer produce, and the days are so hot you cannot imagine ever desiring a hot meal of hearty winter greens. That, combined with the last days of summer vacation for Adrian (who is a retired schoolteacher) seemed to prevent us from ever getting it together enough to plant a winter garden. Finally, this year, with Adrian’s recent retirement, he has had the time to really enjoy the garden and plant and tend to it year round. We have been harvesting the bounty of these plantings in the past few weeks, and sharing meals with our son who is home on leave from the U.S. Coast Guard. He spent 8 months in the arctic ocean on the polar icebreaker Healy, eating mostly frozen and canned vegetables and fruit so our fresh salads and home grown fruits and vegetables have been met with rave reviews. The timing was perfect.
I thought I would give you a little garden tour. We have had good weather for a winter garden, as the days were sunny and clear. There was very little rain, so we did water much more than usual. I took these photos a few days ago, before a cold front and rain storm came in. Most of the produce seems to have survived the weather, but we did harvest all of the caulilower except one of the heads before the freeze. The one we left looks like it is ruined from the cold. However all the other vegetables seem to be holding up okay, and we did have a great salad last night from the greens we picked yesterday during a break in the rain storms.
Broccoli raab is a new favorite vegetable in our family. I cook it the same way that I cook chard and other greens.
. If you want to make a main dish out of it, saute some onion and spicy turkey Italian sausage in olive oil, then scoop in the par-boiled broccoli raab and saute it for a few minutes. Finally add cooked pasta and stir it up well and serve. This has become one of our favorite quick entrees.
Unfortunately, we did not harvest some of the broccoli raab in time, and it flowered. However, we left it in the garden as the bees were going crazy over it. The bees seemed to be very active this winter due to the warm weather, but there are only a few plants flowering right now.
Mesclun salad mixes contain a variety of lettuces and spicy greens such as mustard and arugula. They have a bitter bite due to the mustard and arugula, which can be an acquired taste. Mesclun mixes are good in salads containing fruit, nuts and cheeses to balance the bitterness. The greens can be cut over and over again and they will grow back.
Little gem lettuce is another household favorite. It is crisp, yet tender with a buttery mild flavor. It is good served it in a simple salad with a mild dressing such as green goddess, or as an alternative to romaine in a caesar salad.
Kale is a very nutritious vegetable that can be added to soups, stews and pasta dishes.Lacunato “dinosaur” Kale
Cauliflower can be roasted in the oven using the same method as roasted Brussels sprouts.
. It can then be served hot or cold.
Raw broccoli makes a great southern style salad with mayonnaise, bacon and raisins. Broccoli is also great roasted with olive oil in the oven, or sauteed in the same manner as broccoli raab, chard and other greens.
Peas, onions, shallots and garlic are planted in the fall for a spring harvest.
Another interesting experiment that has worked out well is a bacon avocado tree which we planted about 3 years ago. Bacon is a fairly frost tolerant variety. We got 6 avocados from our little tree this year! I love bacon avocados in a salad with little gem lettuce and a creamy green goddess dressing.
And of course we continue to harvest our citrus which we also sell from our little farm.
Our Owari Satsuma mandarins get sweeter after a mild freeze. They are at their sweetest right now, at over 13 percent sugar measured with a brix refractometer. They skins of ripe Satsumas are very thin and fragile however, and may not hold up well to this long period of wet weather we have entered.
Oro Blanco pommelos are incredibly sweet. They are sometimes huge, but a lot of the large size is due to the thick skin. Inside, they are usually the size of a grapefruit but much sweeter and juicier. They are eaten like a grapefruit.
Meyer lemons are a sweet lemon and tend to be more frost tolerant than other lemon varieties.
Key limes are small, very tart, with a pronounced lime flavor. They have small seeds. The famous key lime pie is easy to make and delicious.
Bearss limes are called bartender’s limes. They are very juicy, with no seeds. They are ready to harvest when they are green, but will turn yellow as they continue to ripen and become more sweet. They are fabulous in lime cocktails such as margaritas. You might want to try a mandarin margarita, made with Satsuma mandarin juice and Bearss lime juice.
We have 3 varieties of blood oranges: Moro, Sanguinella and Tarocco.
Come back often for more recipe ideas using this beautiful winter produce.