Planting The Winter Vegetable Garden

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Living on the ocean has presented some horticultural challenges. Not everything likes to be subjected to salt spray. On the other hand, the ocean tends to keep us one zone warmer in winter on the south coast of New England. Late summer, early fall is time to plant the vegetable garden for winter harvest. Plant the Cole crops, lettuces, and root vegetables just as done in early spring.

My vegetable garden is positioned on the north side of our property. It is protected from the fierce winter northeast storm winds by my neighbor’s cedar fence. The west ocean side is protected by a stand of yews. The south is protected by the house from our normal southwest trade winds. It has a micro-climate all its own.

Years of growing experience have given me some surprising insights into vegetable gardening. Call it lazy, call it frugal, I don’t rush to clean out all the plants because of the season. I have harvested tomatoes right up until Christmas, especially the cherries. Many of the fall crops such as lettuce and broccoli have braved the weather into January. Brussel sprouts will produce through spring.

Using a cold frame to protect lettuce plants and root crops during freezing temperatures actually works to keep the ground warm enough for continuing growth and harvest.

Two winter staples that give me shear joy are curly parsley and curly kale. Parsley tends to be biennial here. Letting it go to seed ensures a constant supply of plants. Parsley amazingly wards off many pest problems of other more tender vegetables. In late fall, I place two-foot stakes at the parsley plants so I can find them when the snow flies. Snow seems to make it sweeter and more aromatic. Winter is the season for healing chicken soup and parsley is a must ingredient.

Kale is also biennial. Plant it when the ground is cool in early spring and late fall. Spring kale will yield a crop of fresh young tender leaves until the heat of summer. Heat tends to make it bitter. Fall kale takes on a life of its own. It flourishes as it gets colder. The cold keeps it from being subjected to cabbage loopers and mealy bugs. Frost only makes it sweeter and more tender. Harvesting the leaves spurs more growth. What more can you ask of a plant that contains cancer fighters and nutrients commonly found in cabbage family vegetables? The heat of the following summer causes it to bolt. Seeds are then harvested.

We make a local specialty here: Portuguese Kale Soup.

  • 1 lb sliced linguica or chourico (Portuguese sausage)

  • 1 lb cubed bottom round or chuck

  • 4 large peeled and diced potatoes

  • 1 clove garlic finely minced or 1 Tbsp dried minced garlic

  • water or chicken broth

  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes or to taste

  • 1 can red kidney beans, drained (opt)

  • 1 lge bundle kale, stems removed, torn into bite size pieces

In a large stock pot or dutch oven, brown beef and sausage over med high heat. Add potatoes and broth or water to generously cover. Add remaining ingredients. Kale will wither down. When it comes to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover. Simmer for additional hour or so until beef is tender. Salt and pepper to taste. This soup gets better the next day. Serve with crusty warm rolls. Mmm.

Resource: Planting The Winter Vegetable Garden

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