Saturday, March 15, 2008

Winter Garden Recap and Looking Forward to Just About Everything (Growing Challenge)

In 22 days, I'll be married.

I'm looking forward to my marriage like nothing I've anticipated before. I get to spend my life with my best partner, my best friend, the person who "gets" me like no one has ever gotten me. My moods don't deter his love. I could giddily blather on and on about ECG, but I didn't set out to write about him. In fact, I set out to reflect on my winter garden, explaining what has grown well for me and what hasn't, how I ate what I grew, and what I will grow again and what I will try differently next time. However, it's hard for me to concentrate on much right now when the rest of my life is just around the corner.

I'll give it a shot anyway.

Some crops I'm still waiting on, like the garlics and Chantenay carrots. Other crops were good ol' basic veggies, like the lettuces and turnips I grew. They were wonderful, but they didn't shake my expectations in any way toward the better or the worse. What I list below are the crops that led me to strong opinions, mostly positive, but I had a few duds.


The Definite Winners:
I planned to plant an heirloom broccoli by seed, but I got started too late, so I purchased seedlings from a local garden center. I planted them in October, and by December, I had riches of sweet broccoli heads. After the first major harvest, I had side sprouts for months. In fact, sweet broccoli graced my table until just a couple weeks ago. One of my favorite ways to prepare it was to drizzle it with olive oil, toss in garlic and hot peppers, and roast it on high heat for a couple minutes until it was bright green with heat-browned bits. After I would take it out of the oven, I'd splash it with soy sauce.

Peas, Sugar Snap
Giant vines covered with sweet, plump pods, edible greens, a delicious, efficient and nitrogen-fixing crop: what more could I ask for out of a vegetable? Lately, I've been blanching my bumper crop, then chilling the pods to eat later, as an afternoon snack, sprinkled with salt.

Fava beans, Windsor
If I depended only on the double-peeled beans, I'd be unhappy with fava beans, for it takes so much to get so little; however, since I discovered the following trick, I can't get enough of the buggers. After picking the slightly immature pods (like those in the picture below), I smear them with olive oil and coarse salt—and sometimes garlic—and then I toss them on the grill. Once the grill leaves black stripes on one side, I flip them over, allow them to get slightly toasted on this side, then remove them. I don't let them get completely blackened, but instead just a little caramelized so that the beans are cooked inside and the pods are sweet. Fava beans prepared this way are really, really good.

Chard, Broadstem Green
Prettier, hardier, and in my opinion, tastier than spinach, chard is a miracle crop. I've sautéed it alone and mixed with other veggies, steamed it, used in soups, and just this weekend, made Lucy's spectacular Chard and Feta Filo Pie. Broadstem Green has grown very well for me, but I look forward to also experimenting with other strains.

Rutabaga, Laurentian
The rutabagas are finally coming into their own, about 1½ " wide and 3" long. They are sweeter and milder than the turnips I grew, and I love to peel them, cut them into chunks, and roast them with garlic and whatever herb I have handy. Yum.

Kale, Tuscan Black (aka Tuscan Palm Tree, Lancinato, Dinosaur, and its many other names)
This kale is sweeter than other kales, it is a beautiful garden plant, adding texture and a lovely blue-gray to the garden, and it is productive. I don't know why I didn't grow more of it, because I kept the few plants I had well-harvested. When I had enough for a dish of just kale, I sautéed it with garlic, tossed in raisins and pine nuts, then splashed the whole thing with red wine vinegar; otherwise, I used ribbons of it in whatever vegetable medley I put together for the evening's dinner.

Beets, Detroit Dark Red
This fall was the first time I've grown beets, so I don't have much to compare this variety with, but it seemed like Detroit Dark Red was so slow to get going. Although I planted the little guys by seed in October, only now do I finally have beets of usable size. They may have gotten too little sun as the peas and other vegetables grew around them. No matter, they are wonderful now. For the most part, I've been peeling them and cutting them into wedges. Then, I've tossed them with olive oil and coarse salt, roasting them on high heat until their edges are brown with caramelized sugars. Oh my.


The Unremarkable Losers:
Spinach, Monoppa
When it finally got off its feet, it bolted. The leaves tasted fine, but it just wasn't very productive and I had much better luck with lettuces for salads and chard for potherbs.

Parsnip, Harris Model
This must be the slowest growing crop ever. My parsnips are still just pencil-thick, but perhaps if I try again, I'll plant them much earlier so that they can be very well-established before winter.


Looking ahead:
The first of the summer crops, the beans, are in the ground. Blue Coco, Indian Woman Yellow, and Pencil Pod Wax are all up and out of the ground. The Asparagus Bean is just poking up out of the ground.

Blue Coco has the prettiest seedlings so far.

Before I know it, this little seedling will sprout up and into its twig and wire reinforcements. It will curl into another seedling. It's reaching stems will clutch onto that other, and the other will twine around it. The two plants will wind and stretch, leaning on each other, helping each other grow upward toward heights neither could make it to alone.

As I said, I can concentrate on little else.


Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

I am so, so, so very happy for you, Christina. And for ECG--he is getting a remarkable partner as well. Your lovely metaphor at the end is a perfect description of what the future holds. Be sure to write it down somewhere [besides here, I mean] to look at and remind both of you from time to time.

Also, as always, impressed by your gardening.

winedeb said...

Oh Christina! Your garden looks and sounds so wonderful! So much success! My pole beans are done, only got 1 meal out of them, but they were good. I tried to do radish's. The top leaves were great, but the radish itself was so tiny and mishapen. I think it is just too hot here for the radish. The best crop so far from the containers, besides all the herbs and hot peppers is the mesclun! Salads abound here right now. Thanks for the recap as I enjoy your recipes that go along with your produce.
And WOW, the big day is approaching quickly! Enjoy all the excitment!!!

Wendy said...

You're getting me all excited about planting, yet again! I have a dilemma though. There's a chance I may be moving house in a couple of months. But I might not. If I don't find out in the next few weeks I'm going to have to make a planting decision!
So very happy and excited for you and ECG! When do you actually head down to New Mexico (am I remembering the location correctly?)?

Anonymous said...

So excited and happy for you! Wishing you all the blessings and happiness in your marriage!

Lucy said...


Firstly, you know I am thrilled about the impending's a wondrous thingto meet someone who 'gets' us.

Secondly, broccoli and soy sauce are just made for one another, aren't they? I'll be planting some this Easter weekend in anticipation of those flavours...

And those photo's? Just so envious!

Susan in Italy said...

Best wishes on your upcoming marriage! Your garden yield looks pretty great.

Chris said...

How exciting!
Congratulations on your upcoming marriage.
We did brocolli as well, but ours flowered so quickly that we didn't get many heads. Still, I know it grows well. We also did the Bright Lights Swiss Chard and are still enjoying it. I look forward to more bean recipes!

Susan said...

How quickly the wedding date approaches! Seems you just announced your engagement yesterday. I'm very happy for you, Christina.

And quite enjoying your garden report. Though it's not too late for us to be besieged by a blizzard here, I am quietly working behind the scenes, planting seeds into Jiffy pots (microgreens, tarragon, eggplants, mesclun...).

Chris said...

perhaps a silly question - do you eat the pods when you grill the fava beans? (it seems most people don't eat the pods, but i would prefer not to waste them, since i only have a few in the garden.)

Christina said...

Terry B.: Thank you. I'll take your advice.

Winedeb: Sorry your pole beans didn't last long. Have you tried asparagus (yardlong) beans? They're supposed to handle the heat really well.

Wendy: That is a dilemma indeed. Good luck figuring out where your next garden will be. I get married in Taos, New Mexico (good memory!) on April 6th. We're leaving here on the 4th, so it will be a whirlwind of preparation once we're there.

Teresa: Thank you!

Lucy: It is indeed. Happy broccoli planting!

Susan in Italy: Thank you--I appreciate your well wishes.

Susan: I'll be glad to see how your garden grows.

Chris: I eat them. Since I grill the immature pods, about 1/2 inch across, not the gargantuan mature pods, they're still tender and good. They get sort of floppy on the grill, and the beans want to pop out of them. They're quite fun to eat, actually. I think you'll enjoy them prepared that way.

Christine said...

14 more days!!!! I'm so excited for you and so sad i can't be there to celebrate your happy day :( but I AM HAPPY FOR YOU!!! i def. miss home right now. anyway...i hope life is treating you well :)

Christina said...

Christine: Home misses you too. Take care of yourself, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Very nice blog! So glad that I found it!