Happy Holidays! Here at Home Garden Joy, I’m celebrating the “winter garden” – what’s left of the fall vegetables, any herbs that haven’t been nipped by the frost, and the bounty of canned goods I’ve set aside for just such a season. Here’s what Hubby and I have been up to at Seven Oaks Farm.
Enjoying the Winter Garden
Here in Zone 6b/7 (depending on the year) the phrase “winter garden” conjures a variety of images. Will we have a warm February? A rainy January? Or the snowstorms in March that hems us in for days at a time? Can you garden in winter?
So far, we’ve had cold, rainy weather. Not my favorite. But the garden survives. I’ve been picking fresh turnips, lettuce, purple chard, and leeks.
The leeks this year were exceptional. I planted them a bit later than usual so they remained small, but those that did grow to mature size were sweet and clean.
Many cookbooks claim that leeks can be ‘gritty’ but I’ve never had them like that. The ones I pull from my garden can be tough to dig up. I always bring a trowel with me and my Felco pruners, and use the trowel to dig the leeks. Then I take them over to the compost pile and use my Felcos to snip off the roots and inedible stems. The remaining leeks are easy to clean and slice.
Gardening in 2021 – Buy Seeds Now
As part of my winter activities, I’m already considering which seeds to purchase now. Last year, many of my favorite seed catalogs were sold out early. The renewed interest in gardening combined with many people fearing food shortages due to the pandemic spurred a frenzy of gardening activity the United States hasn’t seen since, perhaps, the Victory Gardens of World War II. I’m waiting for the industry statistics to be published at the end of the year but I’m guessing that sales of gardening tools, supplies, and plants were much higher than in previous years.
Planning the Kitchen Vegetable Garden
So what is on my list for next year? Red lettuce – again. Longtime readers know that I’m obsessed with red lettuce varieties. I love “Merlot” and “Red Sails”, two looseleaf lettuce varieties high in anthocyanin, a blue/red/purple pigment found in plants. This antioxidant offers anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. It’s typically found in blueberries, raspberries, and other berries. To find it in a lettuce? Divine! Plus, this lettuce is pretty, grows easily, and tastes good. What’s not to love?
Leeks, of course, are a given, as are beets. We love beets in this family whether they’re plain and boiled or pickled and canned. And of course, our tomatoes. Last year’s bumper crop of plum tomatoes, specifically “Roma” varieties, yielded over 94 cans of homemade tomato sauce, 16 pints of juice, and 8 pints of diced tomatoes in the pantry PLUS I gave away half a bushel to our neighbors who took them to our local commercial cannery to make into tomato soup. YUM!
My friends, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, like opening jar of homemade canned tomato sauce on a cold winter night and having it warm with diced garlic, mushrooms, and basil (also dried from the garden) over pasta. I mean….it’s a mouthful of summer goodness right there!
Herbal Varieties I Plan to Add to the Garden
Spring and summer garden planning wouldn’t be complete without thinking ahead to my herb garden. The herb garden I added to the perennial garden has gotten overgrown, messy, and tangled, and I need to really dig in and thin out the spearmint and applemint that threatens to engulf everything.
Additionally, the lemon balm and oregano are also sprawling into each other, so when I make lemon balm tea I end up with a mouthful of oregano-lemon which isn’t really that pleasant. I do drink oregano tea for health purposes (it’s a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-viral and good for the occasional sore throat and cold) but mixed with lemon it’s just plain yuck.
Instead of adding herbs to the garden, I’m going to add more pots to the deck. Now, we’ve fenced in the deck to let Zeke, our German shepherd dog, have a place to play outside, but it’s also a good spot for my potted herbs. My peppermint is in a huge container on the deck and he leaves it alone. I think I’ll try growing a few more basil varieties. Hopefully, he won’t dig them up!
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.