Better Than Snowballs

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Posted by @farmerdill on
When I was young, the winter months were quite dreary. Food was minimal during the depression and was mostly dried beans and canned fruits, as well as vegetables and root crops stored in the ground. Fresh vegetables were rare and coveted. In Piedmont Virginia at that time, that meant kale, rape, parsnips and white mustard. I despised parsnips, and still do to this day. Dad would look me straight in the eye and say: “Better than snowballs when you are hungry."

Today’s supermarkets carry a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables year round. We no longer have to eat according to the seasons. I grow because I enjoy it. Winter vegetables are particularly satisfying. They add a touch of life when most plants are dormant. I still grow some of the old timers which are very cold tolerant. They are direct-sown in late summer (around labor day).

I prefer the Siberian types of kale (B. napus var. pabularia), but real kale (B.oleracea) like Blue Curled Scotch will produce in January-February in zone 7 or warmer. Rape (B.napus) is just as cold tolerant and, in my opinion, better tasting.  I rarely see it anymore, but it was once widely used for hog pastures. It is still planted extensively in the north for rapeseed oil. Canola is a specific variety used this purpose. I do not grow parsnips, but they will stand in the ground all winter. They are usable any time you can dig them out. White mustard (Sinapis alba) will hold at temps to -10 degrees. It is not usually grown in home gardens anymore, but it is the only mustard that I know that will stand single-digit temperatures. A great fall-sown vegetable that can be harvested in late winter (March) is Upland Cress (Barbarea verna). It undergoes very rapid growth at spring thaw and bolts quickly. The harvest window is about three weeks.

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Here in middle Georgia, I have many more options. Turnips (for a really tasty one, try Round Red) are sown late August - October. Greens are available in fall and roots will hold into January. Mustard B. juncea and Mustard -Spinach B. napus var. komatsuna also hold usually into January, although they will succumb to temperatures in the teens. Oriental radishes Raphanus sativus (I prefer the Chinese varieties  like Watermelon) will hold very well into March. They, like all of the other brassicas, bolt quickly with the onset of spring. A great feature is that none of these are picky about soils. They will grow anywhere a weed will grow, provided that the soil is worked to a depth of 6-7 inches. Leaf lettuce and Romaine lettuce can also be direct sown in September and harvested during the winter months. I sow Pak Choy at the same time. Rutabaga is not a sure thing for me. If I can direct sow and get germination in August, it usually does fine. However, I need several days of cloudy weather with rain to lower the soil temps. Unless we get a tropical storm, I don’t have those conditions.

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More difficult, but still relatively easy are the winter vegetables that need to be started in July and transplanted in September. The major difficulty is preparing a seed bed that is cool enough for germination. I accomplish this by putting the plant beds in a shaded area. They also require a well-prepared soil with high fertility when they are transplanted. I start and transplant broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, NAPA cabbage, collards, and onions. Cauliflower will succumb to a hard freeze when heading, but I usually manage a few heads in January. Onions, of course, grow in the winter, but they are spring harvested (May). I start them around Labor Day and transplant them in early December. I side-dress them with extra nitrogen in March.

January is normally the only month I do plant. I start over in February with the cold frame brassicas. I direct-plant Irish potatoes and make a second planting of English peas. The first planting was late November, Willets Wonder, a smooth seeded variety that overwinters well. The second planting is a wrinkle seeded variety.

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Winter growing has its rewards. It is great to just get out of the house, get a little exercise, have fresh vegetables to share with friends, and see their amazement that they could be grown in winter

Comments and Discussion
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Nice Looking crops! by opiewan Jan 11, 2014 7:24 AM 1
Great information by abhege Jan 7, 2014 2:47 PM 10

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