Happy New Year, everyone! While January 1st marks a pivotal point on everyone’s calendar, those of us who dabble in season extension recognize yet another threshold of the year—the point where daylight drops below 10 hours a day. While it varies based on latitude, the period for those of us along the 36th parallel starts around the week of Thanksgiving and continues till mid-January. It’s so important for those who continue to grow vegetables during winter that Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm has deemed it the Persephone period. Plant growth slows considerably during this time due to less light, and while 10 hours of light is certainly not a fixed number for all species, one hopes to have most things planted prior to this point so that they can grow, bulk up, and then be harvested in late autumn and winter. This practice is essentially what we do with fall crops.
Thus, with the new year and the recent start of winter, I thought it a fitting time to reflect on the autumn vegetable garden. It was a pleasant autumn. (Ok, there was that one night I used my headlights to install a floating row cover, and my car battery died.) Temperatures haven’t been too extreme, but we have had some below freezing nights in NC. (Thus, installing that floating row cover was worth the effort!) Rainfall has been hit or miss, but with the addition of a hose and spigot at the community garden plot this year, fluctuations in precipitation haven’t been as much a concern. Another plus has been my friend Deanna has been helping me in the garden. Coming from an ag background, she wanted to work in a garden and said spending time out there is the highlight of her week! Music to my ears.
For those of us who have tried kale chips, we know how addictive they are. For those of you who have not, don’t be afraid. I find that offering a small bite causes mouths turned up to quickly open in earnest for more. I’m happy that kale is a staple of mine throughout winter so that I can continue cooking with it. Of all that I planted in late summer, it is the one crop I expect to continue shrugging off the cold temps with no problem and thrive right into spring.
Broccoli was very productive this fall. Most plants produced heads the diameter of softballs or larger, and then we had a smaller yet equally delectable harvest of the side shoots that form after the apical leader is removed. The plants finally succumbed to the cold.
The savoy cabbages produced heads the size of baseballs to softballs, and I made an excellent roasted savoy cabbage dish with them, topped with apples, pecans, and dried cherries. It was superb straight out of the oven but not as good once refrigerated and warmed up.
Cabbage loopers weren’t too much of a problem. A few dustings of the organic Dipel helped control their numbers.
I continued my fun with trialing lettuce cultivars this fall. Per usual, ‘Jericho’ and ‘Buttercrunch’ performed well and tasted delicious. The former was bred in Israel to be tolerant of heat and dry conditions. I was surprised to see some frost burn on the plants when we dropped from 60°F to 27°F over the course of a day. But, I removed the outer leaves and the inner hearts were still good.
A new cultivar that I trialed and had great success with was ‘Tom Thumb’. The heads favor a chartreuse double rose. I will never grow ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ again. Both back in Tennessee and here in North Carolina it seems to be good for a day and then turn terribly bitter. My quest continues for bitterless lettuce.
I had hoped for tons of Swiss chard this fall, but voles ate probably a third of the plants. Nevertheless, we still had enough for a few salads. I’m amazed at how good it tastes in salads and how beautiful it looks in them, too. I just harvest the leaves young and remove the midrib.
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Before I left North Carolina for the holidays, I tucked the beds in with the floating row cover, and I look forward to returning to see how things are growing. You see, I also have spinach, corn salad, carrots, and a few other greens planted under cover. AND! Before we left for the holidays, we installed a brand new 24-foot-long bed and sowed it with spinach and other hardy winter greens. I’ll cover these cold tolerant crops in a later post.
Until next time, keep growing!