Winter gardening is much easier and more rewarding on our farm than gardening in the summer. The delightfully cool winter weather fosters the limitless time spent outdoors. The refreshing winter breeze invigorates the body and the soul of the humans and animals, but it slows down the plant metabolism, making it possible to survive only for the hardy and highly adapted plants. The freezing soil preserves the plant roots and cures from diseases festering in the summer. The damaging pests are dormant, The plants recover from the summer damage and become immaculate in quality. Winter garden bounty is especially gratifying.
My first experience in winter gardening was associated with the hardy and delicious Red Russian Kale. I learned about this plant two summers ago when I planted just a few seeds in my famous egg shell planters. The plants germinated and grew vigorously that summer giving us a plenitude of flavorful and healthy meals. The kale grew in our Homestead Garden far away from a reliable source of water. In spite of the drought, the kale was very successful. And because of the drought, we transplanted the kale to our kitchen garden adjacent to the house. The plants grew late in the fall and the leathery leaves survived the following winter. We enjoyed the generosity of this wonder plant all winter long, and were pleasantly surprised when new leaves grew in abundance in the very early spring. This so-called annual plant burgeoned for its second season.
Red Russian Kale had earned a very high regard here on KimRidge Farm.
We didn’t get to enjoy the kale last summer. The cabbage butterfly took precedence, there weren’t enough chemicals to control the infestation, and there were too many chemicals applied for the plats to be safe to consume. The cold weather scared away the butterfly. Now, it’s our turn to enjoy the kale.
Egyptian Walking Onion is another winter crop that is hardy and nutritious. The plant became damaged by a fungal disease during the hot and humid Kentucky summer. And only now on the brink of winter, the onion is recovering and filling with life.
I am thoroughly impressed by the resilience of strawberry plants as they are quickly recovering from the heat of the summer. It’s apparent that we won’t be harvesting any berries in the winter. The plants, however, have a great opportunity to recover and strengthen during the season.
Another successful winter dweller in our area is parsley. It did very well last winter. We were cutting parsley branches right from under the snow and onto the table. Summers in our area are parsley’s enemies. This puny little raw of parsley was planted from seed early in the summer. Not many of the seeds had germinated and the surviving plants had struggled all summer long. But I must give them a credit. This section of the kitchen garden has been used for the first time. It’s infertile and it doesn’t get the afternoon sun.
Today, I am planting garlic next to this parsley.
The sunny side of the garden has improved fertility from years of cultivation. This parsley is healthy and glabrous in spite of being crowded by the tomatoes and basil. I am counting on this one to give us the greens this winter while the other bed will be nourished for a while.
Our biggest surprise last winter was India Mustard. Despite its name, this plant does very well in the winter. This annual leafy vegetable lived two years. It was so lush and abundant in early March last year, that we used it in salads almost every day along with our green onions, kale, parsley, and some root crops. This summer was so unforgiving on our India Mustard, that I didn’t even hope to have any survivors. But I have a few plants in the garden that look pretty sad right now. I am going to overcome my embarrassment and post this photo to use it as a comparison with the future mustard plants (if they survive).
And last, but not the least is Jerusalem Artichoke. This American native plant deserves a separate post. We use it as a replacement for potatoes (when we run out of potatoes). We need to learn not to use it as a substitute food, but to have it as a food of it’s own adding to the variety of our diet.
Jerusalem Artichoke does not grow in the winter. But it makes tubers in the late summer that store energy for more plants to germinate and grow during the next season. The underground tubers are abundant. And what’s nice about them is that they can withstand freezing. The tubers are being “stored” right there in the garden soil. And when we are ready to have some on our table, we come out with our potato fork and pull out the winter fresh crop.