Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Winter Harvest: Fresh Food in the Cold Months

In Texas, and perhaps to a degree in most of the country, food gardening can continue into the winter months. There is always something to be doing when one is raising food. I will be picking up pecans from now through December, as each tree drops them at different times.

I'm not planting a winter garden this year. There just is not time and energy for everything. But the Swiss Chard is holding its own and looking great for winter gathering. That is, the plants
inside the fence are. The ones outside we and the deer take turns with. The plants grow, we gather some, the deer eat the rest. The plants grow back, and so on. Swiss Chard is a biennial so will overwinter and be good for at least two years.

We still have onions that I grew and they are keeping nicely. They get hotter the older they get, but they have good flavor. I left a few in the ground and they just keep sending up green shoots through the winter, so there's a little green to liven things up. I will put out more onion plants in January. We grow what is called "short day" onions here, as they bulb based on the number of daylight hours - and our days are shorter than those up north. I have ordered plants from Dixondale Farms, a Texas company, so that I can get them early. I also buy some from the local produce or feed store when they get them in. That way I am sure they are a variety that will grow well in this country. I only set out the little plants that come in bundles, because the little bulbs never actually make for me.

My tomatoes did poorly and I have no green ones to store. My friend stores them, and she said they kept until February when they used the last of them. She gathers all the green ones right befoer the first frost, wraps each in newspaper, and puts them in a single layer in cola flats, under the bed. She said she just pulls one out and unwraps it when they need a tomato and surprise! Each is red and ripe and (she says) tastes lovely!

Last year we enjoyed turnips, beets and carrots as winter veggies that could be left in the ground and picked before dinner. Some of the turnips got a little woody toward the end of the season, so I will gather earlier when I grow them again. Parsnips would be a super choice for that but I haven't discovered the secret to those yet. Except that the tops do not look like carrot tops! Last batch I planted, I I weeded the patch and only later found out I had pulled up the parsnip seedlings in error. *sigh*

This summer, I planted two kinds of winter squash: acorn and spaghetti. The acorn squash were great fresh but did not keep. Those stored in a dark place turned orange and dried up, those stored in refirgeration developed mold.

The spaghetti squash, though, turned out to be super keepers. I waited until their color had begun to get more yellow and they had a pale spot on the bottom (like watermelons) before picking them. I let them cure by sitting in a basket for a few days then put them in a net bag
and hung them in a dark closet. This was in July I think? Anyway, I cooked one of them last week and it was perfect. As far as I can tell they have all kept beautifully. I saved seed from it. I will definitely grow them again.

As the weather cools down, my peppers are finally behaving and making more peppers. They kind of stalled during the heat. If last year is any indication, I'll be able to gather peppers right up until frost.

I have Saffron Crocus bulbs to set out this week. It will be next fall before I know if they will do well for me, as they bloom in the autumn. I don't really think of them as food, but since I love to have flowers anyway why not have some that will also provide the most expensive spice in the world? :-)

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