Meet Anni Jensen – seed propagator here at Annie’s and devoted vegetable gardener. She and her wife, Carol, harvest something delicious from their small Richmond garden nearly 12 months out of the year. What’s this dynamic duo up to right now in the garden? Well – read on!
Fall has crept up on us, and we now find ourselves enjoying the crisp air and the warm sun as we survey our late Summer gardens: the last berries, Summer crops producing but slowing down, our ever-challenged tomatoes still trying to mature. We note what we tried this year that worked, the things that did not quite work and how to make 2013 an even better garden year.
We are also busy: the apples and pears are getting ready, and we naturally swing into eating, harvesting and preserving mode. We are not the only ones who like fresh produce.
We have made a lot of jam using the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, and we now understand why those little jars are pricy: it takes a lot of fruit to make jam like that. But it is so good. Soon the food hydrator will be humming, full of apples slices and tomatoes. So when I say: plant your Winter vegetables NOW, you may protest. You are not done with Summer yet.
This is the paradox of living in Northern California, so unlike the scenarios that many of us grew up with. We used to clean up the garden and then put it to rest for the Winter. Yet, the moment when we are wrapping up Summer, we have now to unwrap our memories of the incredibly bountiful Winter gardens we can have in the San Francisco Bay Area. In many ways, it is easier to grow vegetables here during the Winter than during the Summer. The Winter rains will take care of them and all you really need to do is to go out and harvest. But before you can do that, you will have to plant them. And there is the rub… you have to do it now.
Most Winter vegetables need to be planted early and grow strong before the days get short and cool. If they don’t get to do that, they will not do much for you. The broccoli heads will be puny, the tatsoi will not become a foot wide, the cabbages will disappoint you. And then they will bolt in February, as they are naturally meant to do, leaving your plates wanting and you wondering what went wrong.
So I slather a slice of bread with that incredible jam and take it out to the garden. I take a bite and then a fresh look at the garden beds. This is the moment when I often feel conflicted because the beds still seem full of Summer vegetables.
However, I am kept strong by visions of steaming bowls of soup with young leeks and peas, heaping piles of thinly sliced kale or chard sauteed with garlic, crunchy coleslaw, salad bowls full of greens so fresh you can’t buy them like that at the farmer’s markets. I am comforted by memories of clear frosty mornings when the broccoli and lettuces are edged with hoar frost, as pretty as any Summer flower garden.
My desire for the Winter garden takes over and I decide where I am going to grow my Winter vegetables. I get some compost and rejuvenate the areas; many of the Winter vegetables like rich soil. If no compost is available, I can temporarily get away with adding some blood meal under the seedlings as I plant them. I will compost later; perhaps some buy grape compost at Annie’s. Then I look for plants.
Even though I have been told that most people have not thought of their Winter garden yet, we have lots of vegetables waiting for you at Annie’s. I made sure they were ready earlier than usual because I really want you to have them at the right time. Some of them are classics, mainstays of my Winter garden because they have proven themselves worthy. Some are recent discoveries that I want to grow again.
The ‘Red Russian’ Kale, sweet, and tender with knock-out wavy-edged red leaves is a true heirloom, brought to Canada around 1895 and now found in every community garden I have visited. Many gardeners passionately refuse to grow any other kale. Myself, I also like dinosaur kale, an Italian heirloom with dark and gloriously buckled leaves like imaginary dinosaur skin. Together they really give you something striking to look at in the garden, as well as being quite versatile in the kitchen.
If you tried to grow broccoli during the Summer, you may have decided it was way too much trouble. Aphids, cabbage loopers – usually not a happy plant. But broccoli really shines during the cool season and becomes a different creature in the garden. ‘Waltham’ is new to us and is bred especially for Fall planting. ‘Apollo’ gives you less of a head but more totally delicious broccolini florets.
We have chard in various beautiful colors of red and yellow (‘Annie’s Mix’) or ‘Magenta Sunset’ (presented here by Valentina). The stems are usually braised and the leafy part is used like spinach – but if you harvest the leaves young, you can dice the stem, cut the leafy part into ribbons and cook them together. If you like chard, you can really get a lot of food out of a few plants. If you are not so keen on chard, try cooking it for 45 minutes with onion, cilantro, garlic and paprika. It will end up silky and fragrant and the dish will probably convert you.
I love beets. We have ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets, sweet and tasty with metallic red leaves. If you pick the leaves small they are great in salads. Golden ‘Touchstone’ beets are very mild and will not color your prep hands red. And ‘Chioggia’ is beautifully banded inside red and white. If that “too earthy” flavor bothers you in commercial beets, try eating your beets before they get big and you will probably be surprised. No need to pickle them to make them edible. Not that a beet lover minds pickled beets.
Cabbages are often so difficult to find a space for in the small garden with their large leaves camouflaging a head somewhere in the center. ‘Pixie’ turned out to be a winner last year, small (it’s true, you can plant them 1 foot apart) with a head just the right size for a small household. But if you have the space and desire vats full of sauerkraut, ‘Filderkraut’ is the one for you. There’s nothing like a fresh and crunchy snap pea, straight from the vine.
The original ‘Sugar Snap’ was tall and did not hang on well to its trellis; it usually had to be tied to it. And then it got mildew. The first generations of healthier and more manageable snap peas were not worth growing, lacking the sweet ‘Sugar Snap’ flavor and I kept returning to the original, despite its faults. However, ‘Cascadia’ is good and I recommend it. It grows to 4’ tall, easy to reach and maintain. The challenge is getting peas out of the garden and into the soup or the sautéed veggie dish. They tend to be eaten in the garden, and if you share your garden with someone, you have to keep on your toes to get some.
Then there are all the great salad greens you can pick at all Winter long. Lettuces, baby tatsoi, ‘Bordeaux’ spinach – I always have a little of all of them. If you only have space for one thing, try the ‘Provencal Winter Mix.’ It has a little of many kinds of greens and herbs. Parsley and cilantro? They grow very well in those dark corners that don’t get any Winter sun. Then take home some Calendula, Violas and Borage. Adding the flowers makes the salad look really pretty, almost too pretty to eat, but people get over it.
This all makes me very hungry, and I’d better get going. Time to get the gloves and clippers out and clear some space. Plant some winter veggies. We can do it.
P.S. If you want to see all of the vegetables available on the website right now, CLICK HERE.