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A Winter Harvest

Here it is late December, and I just came back in from the garden with a small harvest. It's been rainy the past few days. Despite the drizzle, I threw on my raincoat and ventured outside to pick fresh greens and see what else I could find. 

When I came back inside with the basket full of vegetables and herbs, everything was covered with mud. The beets and horseradish had clumps of dirt on them that got onto the rest. So, I washed it all really well and then soaked it in a bin of water with a few tablespoons of white vinegar to help clear away any impurities. One last rinse and a spin dry in the vegetable spinner, and there they are. My lovely garden veggies.

What did I find? Kale, swiss chard, spinach, bok choy, beets, horseradish, and parsley.

All except the beets and horseradish were plants that reseeded themselves over the summer. Actually, greens and herbs have been reseeding themselves for the past few years. I have literally not planted any seeds of these plants for a long time, perhaps five years now. They just come back year after year, popping up here and there all over the garden. So, when winter comes, I just wander around the garden to see where I can find them, and I feel such gratitude to see that they have returned.

I planted the horseradish a couple years ago and this is the second year we've harvested from it. It is a perennial so it continues growing year after year. People typically harvest it in the winter since the freezing weather causes it to become spicier.

The beets were planted in late summer and have grown very slowly. I've found that if I wait too long into winter, the slugs will start to burrow into the beets in our garden, so I figured I'd better take them as soon as they were of decent enough size to eat, even though they are rather small.

If you enjoy gardening but have never tried cool-season crops, I'd encourage you to give it a try next year. Plant the seeds in late summer (end of July or August), or put them into the ground as starts in late August or early September. Or, let your kale or swiss chard go to seed and then allow the seeds to drop onto the ground - you'll then have tiny plants in late fall that will continue to grow slowly all winter. 

Most cold-tolerant vegetable plants continue to thrive even down to 26 degrees F. Greens like lettuce, swiss chard, and spinach are sweeter during the winter, and it's such an enjoyable experience to discover the plants growing in the garden when all the flowers and other plants in the yard have died back. You'll find abundant life out there in the garden this time of year, and it gives you a reason to putter around outside. We've had success growing greens like those shown here down to 22 degrees F. Even ice and snow do not kill the plants. Once the sun comes back out and it warms slightly (like to 32 degrees), the plants will begin to look better and are soon ready for another harvest in the middle of winter.