Yesterday I did some actual gardening for the first time since before Thanksgiving that didn’t involve looking at seed catalogs. We have had some slightly warmer weather recently and some of the snow has melted. I was able to go out in the garden and find a patch of ground warmed by the sun that had completely thawed. With some detective work and my pitchfork I was able to harvest some nice parsnips!
I think parsnips are an underappreciated vegetable. Many people think they are just a white carrot. The great thing about them is they are about the only vegetable you can harvest from November through March in New England. They are sweeter after the first frost. I use the big misshapen parsnips in soup. The nice looking ones can be cooked with a roast or even cooked quickly in the microwave with some carrots and butter as a side dish.
After a bit of washing I had a few nice specimens.
I can’t take credit for growing these. These parsnips are actually self-sown. All you have to do is allow some parsnips to go to seed in your garden over the summer and in late fall, winter, or early spring you can harvest some nice ones. Of course, if you want all nice, straight, symmetrical parsnips you can make a hole with a steel bar, fill it with compost and plant a few parsnip seeds in it. Thin to one seedling and in a few months you will have some really nice straight parsnips. That is too much work for me. Besides I enjoy the occasional parsnip shaped liked Massachusetts or Idaho. My gardening compatriot Chloe doesn’t mind the odd shapes either.
In between cold snaps and periods of constant rain, I go outside and see signs that spring is around the corner. Green leaves of extra-early China Pink garlic poke through the mulch.
Swollen buds of wintersweet (Chimonanthus) open demurely as a precursor of spring’s exuberance.
I’m always disappointed that the Chinese witch hazel that I planted years ago holds onto its leaves so that its fragrant blooms can only be appreciated up close while swaddled in rain gear.
To appreciate the true magnificence of the witch hazels in bloom, I took a trip to Seattle to visit the winter garden at the Washington Park Arboretum, associated with the University of Washington. Many hardy folks treated themselves to a weekend morning outing, many with our happy dogs, despite frozen fingers and toes. From afar, colors were muted, but massed in a way that dazzled our winter senses.
Get up close and we could appreciate the color, be amazed by the bloom’s structure and find the sweet scent.
But even more, one sees how gardens really are about so much more than flowers.
Here in Southern Ontario we are experiencing one of the more severe winters in recent history. More snow, much colder temps and certainly less sunshine. Compared to other winters, it certainly isn’t as pleasant harvesting in the greenhouse without the sun, but I am still delighted that I can do it and have fresh greens.
My greenhouses are unheated and are covered by a single layer of plastic.
I cover my crops with a single layer of agricultural fabric and that makes all the difference in the world. I generally scatter my seed in late September for my winter crops and water until I have germination. Then Mother Nature is on her own. I don’t water, weed, or worry about bugs!
Generally I find my crops continue to grow into the first week of November, then growth stops, and the crop simply holds. I can’t harvest most days until 10-11am, as leaves are frozen solid before that.
The taste of winter greens is totally different. The frost makes leaves so sweet-I have to stop myself from eating too much when I’m out there.
The most successful greens for me in the winter are kales, chards,arugulas and mustards. This year I liked the purple mizuna, leaf radish, and claytonia, as well as tatsoi, and minutina. Usually winter lettuces will carry on through the winter, but this winter has been a bit too cold. ( Note, the micro-greens in the picture were grown indoors under lights.)
As much as I am glad to be able to grow all winter, I really was hoping that the groundhog had not seen his shadow yesterday. 6 more weeks of winter, here we come!
Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm