Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mid-Winter Harvest

Over the years we learned a few lessons about overwintering crops...

1. Cold weather makes your brassicas very sweet.  This is a great reason to grow brassicas in the fall to pick during winter.  (However, some years it gets too cold (10 degrees or lower) and we lose some of the brassicas.)  This winter was mild and everything made it through without protection with row covers or poly-tunnels.

2. There are fewer pests to deal with in the fall and winter season.

3. Pick your overwintered leafy & root brassicas (kale, collards, brussel sprouts, turnips etc.)  before they bolt (go to flower).  Bolting happens before you know it and then all the plant's energy is sent into flower and seed production.  This is great if you want seeds, but we've learned that by the time seeds are produced, aphids are in full force and it's not fun to deal with.  If brassicas are already flowering, you can use the flowers and buds in cooking just like broccoli.
Kale flower bud forming

4. Sometimes overwintered vegetables don't grow like they should.  Maybe we planted too late in the season, didn't fertilize right, or there were too many temperature swings.  For example, our kohl rabi didn't fully form round bulbs, they are more elongated.  Now they are starting to bolt, so we know they are not going to get any bigger.  However, the stem tastes just as sweet as proper looking kohl rabi does, so we harvested it and ate it.

Kohl rabi that didn't fully form right

5. After harvesting your winter crops, process them in such a way to make them easy to use for cooking. I'm trying hard to get better at this.

Lots of curly Kale to process

To Process Kale:
  1. Clean
  2. De-stem and tear into 1 to 2 inch sized pieces
  3. Blanche Kale in boiling water for 2 minutes
  4. Ice Bath- move Kale to large bowl full of ice water to stop cooking process
  5. Drain
  6. Freeze in cooking-friendly sized portions.  I used muffin tins for an initial freeze, then packed the small portions in gallon freezer bags.

Another way to use a lot of Kale is to make Kale Chips.  Basically clean, de-stem, and dry the kale.  Coat in olive oil and any seasonings you like.  Bake on cookie sheets at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until kale is crispy.  I made some for the first time this weekend.  I think I used too much sea salt.  I added some garlic granules to the second batch and they tasted better.  

Other winter crops we cleared out this weekend were beets, kohl rabi, brussels sprouts, turnips, bok choy, and carrots.  The beets were small and covered in root hairs, but we cooked them up anyway.  The turnips were very large and cracked.  I thought they'd be woody and nasty, but they were super juicy and sweet.  The carrots were anemic, pretty sure I planted them too late, I cleaned and froze them for future soup stock.  The bok choy harbored snails and an earwig, but otherwise still looked edible.

The winter crops that are still left if the ground from fall are broccoli, young brussel sprouts, garlic, green onions, fava beans, lettuce, spinach, and chard.   

To summarize: process and enjoy those mature winter crops before they bolt and get attacked by all the bugs that are emerging from their winter slumber.  Plus now is a good time to clean out those garden beds to make way for spring crops.  

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