I like to do a garden that is full of the things that I like to EAT. I have found that a garden filled with the things that you love to eat you will take better care of than a garden that is filled with what does well in your climate, but are not your favorites. To me ‘preserve’ is to stretch the season with planning or storage, not necessarily to can or freeze. This also means an item can be used at multiple stages of it’s growth, not just when it is ‘ripe.’ More like stretching the ‘eating phase’ and not the ‘gardening phase.’
I have a passion for a few items that I like to eat and like to grow, and have on hand as long as possible. This post is about these items and how I ‘stretch’ their seasons so I can have them as long as possible. I like to be thinking about how I will be using items in the kitchen as I plan my garden. Fresh only? Fresh small and Fresh big? Fresh AND frozen? Fresh AND stored? Fresh AND pickled? Fresh and garden over-wintered? Fresh and give away surplus?
At the supermarket you are presented with produce that is harvested at the stage that will ship, that is economical for the farmer to grow and process, and will make some money for the store, etc. This is not especially the way your should ‘manage’ your own garden.
Our climate allows for some risk in regards to leaving things in the ground. You may get an extreme cold spell that will destroy everything. I plan on having nights in the teens to 20s, an average amount of snow and rainfall. Critters will discover your bounty and help themselves. Slugs, snails and all manner of other small creatures will want to feast on your produce, if you risk leaving things in the garden.
Leeks: I grow mine from seed started in late Feb. Transplant out in May, 8 inches apart in a shallow trench. They are VERY slow growers. I gradually fill in the trench as they get taller. Leeks are harvested in mid winter/early spring, when most of the garden is still asleep. You may be digging leeks out of a snow bank, but they will hold up quite well. I like to say that growing leeks is a long-termed relationship.
- Red and yellow onions: I grow mine from seed started in March. Transplant out when large enough, 6″ apart. Takes all summer to have nice mature bulbs. You can start using some at the ‘spring onion stage’. This is when they are in the ‘pre-bulb stage,’ but past the ‘green onion’ stage. Bend tops over in late Sept, finish curing and drying in an inside location. Trim and use for 5 months, through the fall and early winter. The bulbs with the thinnest necks will store the longest. Use the thick-necked onions first.
Red Cabbages: I grow mine from seed started in early April. Plant out 18″ apart. Takes all summer to get nice heads. You want the heads to be ready LATE for storage. Cut mature heads before they split, trim, clean off and store heads in the fridge in a loose plastic bag for, yes, 6 months! They keep just beautifully this way. Because they are harvested at the exact right stage and are undamaged from handling, they will store nicely. Slaw in April last year! I also made kim chee this fall with the red cabbage chopped large with carrots, garlic, jalapenos and fish sauce. Here is the recipe I used. A pleasant surprise that really wakes your taste buds up!
- Tomatoes, Cherry: I plant one or two from purchased plants. Sweet Million is my current favorite. Large tomatoes on a large plant. I like to make up a salad du jour mix that is not dressed and have in the fridge. I add uncut cherry tomatoes to this. Cut tomatoes would ruin the storable quality of this mix.
- Tomatoes, Romas and large types: I plant lots. Fresh eating, freeze the surplus. For those of you that will be harvesting late, unripe tomatoes for fresh use, I have had the best luck with the plum and roma types. It seems like their skins are tougher and less susceptible to mold and and rot before and after picking. I do not wash these until they are ripe and ready to use. (See this previous post for the details on freezing: Freezing Tomatoes.)
Green Peppers: I plant my own from seed. Green bell types. They need some heat at all stages; from germination to fully grown. Peppers can be used at any stage of growth, this means if you plant lots, I plant at least 30, you can leave the peppers on until they turn red, or if your season is short, you can use any and all peppers left on the plants in the fall. You will be able to use all the fruits up!
- Green Beans: I plant one triple hill of my mother’s old heirloom cultivar she called ‘Tall Telephone.’ She saved her own seed for 50 years and now I keep up the tradition and have saved for 12 more years. I keep two consecutive season’s dry seed on hand at all times. I use three 10′ rebars set in a tripod, wired together at the top. 5 seeds at the base of each bar. Base about 24″ wide. These tall pole beans have grown to 15′ in a season. You can start to pick early and the season goes to Halloween, some years. I get about 7 good picking sessions. Eat fresh, fresh pickle some, give some away. I don’t freeze or can these.
Green and Yellow Zuccuhini: Fresh only, pick early and often. Give some away. I have found that the yellow zuccuhini “Butterstick,’ from Burpee out-produces any green cultivar I have tried, by double!
- Slicing Cukes: Fresh. I like ‘Bush Champion.’ It does some running. Makes nice slicers. Each plant may produce 10 cukes, in succession.
Carrots: I like Danvers Half-long for my soils. It is shorter and much fatter in shape, with very large tops, taller than most varieties. I plant three times in a spring; April, May and June. Start using when small, using the thinnings. I pull and store a whole block of carrots in the fridge at a time. Just wash and clip the tops short. Store in loose plastic bags. The last block gets left in the garden. The robust tops serve to protect the roots from early frosts. If left later into the winter, the tall tops will help with the mulch you will be adding to keep the roots from freezing. As you harvest and use from this block, the first sign of carrot ‘bugs,’ means you should pull the entire block and be prepared to store out of the soil. In our part of the country it is the carrot root fly that does the dirty deed.
- Green Onions: I plant Southport White Globe. A nice green onion I plant about 3 times a season; seeds about 1/2″ apart in rows 10″ apart. The very earliest planting will make nice white onions if thinned, if not thinned, the smaller bulbs can left in the ground and will produce an early crop of early green tops the following spring. The bulbs sort of dissolve and send up new multiple green tops in March/April.
- Garlic: Plant in early to mid September. Your goal is to get the cloves rooted and happy by winter. Plant individual cloves pulled from bulbs just before planting. 4 to 6 inches apart. Harvest in August the following year. Eat some, store some like onions, and replant the LARGEST CLOVES FROM THE LARGEST BULBS. That way you are selecting for the best of the best. I like Spanish Rojo. It is red skinned, very firm, very strong flavored and is an excellent keeper. Do not let your garlics sit in the ground after the tops have yellowed. When your bulbs are ripe they need to be dig and used or saved for replanting the following month.
- Cilentro: Seed early and often. Cilentro does not transplant well so should be seeded direct. I buy an ounce of seed at a time and use it for 2 to 3 years. You can pinch and clip the leaves from the plants; you do not need to pull the roots to get the leaves, like you may see in the markets. I have even tried thai recipes that called for the entire cilentro plant: tops, stems and roots, all chopped together. The white roots taste like….well….cilentro! My last planting made in early September is about 5 inches all now in mid October. I also have a ‘gamble’ sowing that is just 1″ tall. Might make something in a mild fall/early winter. To me cilentro is an essential item that has no substitute, like cumin, in my kitchen. I know that coriander seed is the seed from the cilentro plant, but have not had success in our climate getting them to ripen. Not enough heat, I guess.
Flat leaf parsley: Nice to have and easy to grow. I plant my own seed late in the spring. The reason for this is that I want nice big plants in the fall that are not showing any sign of going to seed (bolting). Plant too early and your plants may bolt. They are still usable, but not as winter hardy. I like flat leaf because it is very easy to wash and has a nice strong flavor. This picture is of my three plants in October, ready to brave the coming winter. They will bolt in the spring, but are usable until April. Leaves and stems of parsley are essential to any stock pot.
Added 6/4/15: Going to add Sugar Snap Peas to this list. Mainly due to the length of season and harvest size flexibility. These need support, I use old field fence and rebar stakes, but that makes picking easier. I love pod peas in my stir-frys, but growing just pod pea types is not very satisfactory. If they get a little ahead of you, they are almost inedible. If you grow Sugar Snaps, you can harvest when pod pea size and up to shelling pea size and still have great peas. If you miss some in each picking, the next picking will just yield some larger ones. An additional bonus is the harvesting of pea shoots. For a complete planting and harvesting tutorial on pea shoots, click here.