Saturday, November 23, 2019
|Early December garden; chard in the foreground, herbs in the background|
December is a time of digging in and staying warm. It may appear that everything is dead outside, but there is still life in the garden. In the beds, kale, cabbage, salad burnet, sorrel, rosemary, oregano, garlic, onions, lettuce, leeks, chard, dill, celery, sage, carrots, spinach are all still green in December.
Fresh herbs are just steps away from the back door. Most Mediterranean herbs are perennials so you get to enjoy them almost year round. You can also grow many herbs indoors as well like chives, oregano, rosemary, parsley, chervil, and basil. Rosemary and bay are two to dig up and bring indoors to guarantee survival through the winter. Just place your potted herbs in a sunny window. I keep my bay in pots and bring into the garage for the winter. They are getting huge after 3 years in a pot.
If you are using a greenhouse, your kale, celery, mustard, lettuce, chard, spinach, cabbage, sprouting broccoli are still happy under cover. They will not grow much until sunlight gets back to 10 hours per day in late January. Be sure on sunny, warm days to pop the top on your greenhouse or you will scorch your greens. It can get 50 degrees warmer inside a greenhouse on a sunny day than the actual temperature outside.
|Cultivated dandelion in a pot|
All cold crops are at their sweetest during the cold weather. Frost brings out the sugars in cold crops. Hardy greens like chard, kale, spinach, mustard greens, cultivated dandelion greens, and collard greens make great salads and are tasty steamed or braised.
Make sure if you have any potted veggies to put them on the ground if they are on coasters and move them to a sheltered area on the south side of the house to extend their growing time. Placing straw bales around them or mounding mulch provides extra protection. I also move them up against the wall. This does double duty-southern exposure gets the most sun and warmth. Pots left exposed creates a micro climate that is a zone lower than the ones planted in the ground. If you are in Zone 6, be sure that plants left in pots are hardy to at least Zone 5 if you want them to come back in the spring. If they are not, put under cover or bring into the garage for the winter.
Extend the season with protection for plants
Veggies like your favorite tomato, pepper, eggplant, or celery that you potted and moved indoors will continue to produce indoors if provided warmth and enough sunlight. My Chiptelin pepper is one I bring in every year. I also bring in lemon verbena, lemon grass, citrus, bay and goji berry plants for overwintering in our attached, unheated garage. We place them in the sunniest spot in the garage and supplement with 4 foot fluorescent grow lights.
The Fresh Produce Buying Local Option
|Chives in front, sage and rosemary in back|
You can check on line to see if you have a farmers market in your area. Many have farmers markets year round where you can get fresh produce, canned, baked goods, eggs and meats locally grown. Many that aren't open regularly will have hours before Christmas so you can get fresh, local ingredients for your holiday meal. A great place for finding what is near you is the on-line resource www.localharvest.org
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is where you invest in a local farmer in January when they have to purchase their seeds and supplies for the upcoming gardening season. You then get a weekly share of the farmers harvest typically from May through October. There are even some winter CSA's now!
Before I started our own edible garden, we joined a CSA. It was great. We got lots of super fresh produce, our weekly grocery bill was significantly reduced as our meals were planned around the vegetables, and it was an adventure getting to try new recipes with veggies we had never ate before.
Eat well, be healthy
A CSA shows you what grows well in your area. You can find out the varieties you like and when they come into season. You can even save the seeds from the varieties that you want to grow in your future garden if you partner with an organic CSA that grows open pollinated and heirloom vegetables and fruits.
What do the terms GMO, natural, heirloom, organic, hybrid really mean?
To advertise as “organic” you have to be certified. Many farmers cannot afford to do this. Some farmers participate in the "Certified Naturally Grown" program. This is less expensive than USDA organic, but also relies on inspections by other CNG farmers, non-CNG farmers, extension agents, master gardeners and customers instead of USDA certified agents. If you are interested in produce grown without pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, ask if the farmer uses organic practices. Go visit them to see the garden for yourself before you commit. You can also check out reviews on line.
Many sell out by January so don’t delay if you want to join!
Preserving the harvest
It is easy to store winter squash in your pantry to pull out anytime. We have eaten butternut squash from the garden all the way into June of the following year. 21 no tech storage crops
If you put garlic in your pantry and some have dried out, make garlic powder. Just process the dried garlic in a coffee or spice grinder. Now you have great flavor to add to burgers, sauces, or steaks. Quick tip-make dried garlic into garlic powder
I take the herbs I had drying in paper bags and remove all leafs. I store my herbs in quart canning jars. I mix them all together for a homemade “Herbes de Provence”. Make your own "Herbes de Provence" I use it on everything! It is great in sauces, on meats, in dressings.
If you threw your extra tomatoes into the freezer and are now thinking it would be nice to have tomato sauce, canning tomato sauce is simple and easy to do. I use Weck’s canning jars. They are all glass so no worries about what is lining the lid. And they are a really pretty shape. Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty
|Tarragon, thyme, sage, rosemary and chives|
All you need to can tomato sauce is a large pot, canning jars, a funnel, and canning tongs. A pressure canner is not needed for acidic foods like tomatoes. Always follow the recipe as written to insure food safety. If the food is not acidic enough, it can allow botulism to grow.
I throw the entire tomato (de-stemmed) into the food processor. Most recipes say to remove the peel and seeds so you don’t have a bitter taste, but I have not noticed any issue with bitterness.
Here is the recipe from Ball’s “Complete Book of Home Preserving” for tomato paste:
9 cups of pureed tomatoes, 1½ cups of chopped sweet bell peppers, 2 bay leaves, 1 teas salt, 1 clove of garlic.
I put it all into a large pot and let simmer until it is the consistency and taste I like, about 2.5 hours. Remove the bay leaves and garlic. Boil the jars, lids, and seals as the sauce is close to done.
Add 3 teas of lemon juice to each hot pint jar, fill with the hot tomato sauce to within ½ inch of the top, and seal the lid, following the instructions for the type of jar you are using. Place all the filled jars in a large pot, insuring they are fully covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 45 minutes. Be sure that the pot is at a steady boil for the entire 45 minutes. Remove from canner. Let cool for 24 hours. Remove the ring and test the seal after the jar is completely cool by gently lifting the jar by the lid. It should not lift off. That’s it!
Other high acid foods you can using a water bath are jams, jellies, condiments, salsas, pickles, and relishes. I pickle my garlic harvest so I have garlic whenever I need it. Have garlic any time you need it, just pickle some! Consult with a canning book for more tips and always follow the recipe exactly as written to insure the right acidity for safe canning.
Winter is time to savor the fresh herbs from the garden along with what you have preserved, browsing for canning ideas, and planning next year's garden. A potential Christmas meal using what is growing in the garden in December, Jazz up the Christmas feast with herbs from the garden
I use Christmas break as the time to finalize my garden plan for the spring. I look back on my notes from last year's edible garden and this year's seed catalogs to decide what new varieties to add to my standbys.