Before the chives are tall enough, and the rhubarb is not yet peeking through, and the asparagus is still far underground; at a time when seed orders are being placed and this year’s garden is only in the thinking stage, fresh garden foods are out there for the picking. If you planned it right.
Tonight, for dinner we had cube steak. Although this was wonderful organic grass-fed beef it was far from the highlight of the dinner. The real stars were parsnip and rutabaga and salad- all of them fresh from the garden. And we haven’t even started gardening this year!
Fresh-from-the-garden lettuce and other salad greens are a priceless treat this time of year. Here's how we did it. Lettuce and claytonia were planted in the cold frames (see previous posts here, and here, and here, and here, and here) last fall. Though the greens did not grow during winter, the cold frames protected the young plants from freezing. The plants started growing by late February, and now, in late March, they are ready to harvest.
The flavor of parsnips is worth waiting for and is coming to be, for us, part of our celebration of spring’s arrival. We don’t even think of pulling even one of them in fall. Parsnips are for spring. And in spring, must be pulled up before they start growing again. If they are not, a hard core develops and then the plants go to seed. So you can’t leave them there and go do other things. They are spring food and are wonderful and you have to eat them.
If rutabaga is not pulled up in fall, after winter the parts above ground start to go to mush, and this rot will continue unless they are picked. So it is imperative to get at them as soon as the icy clutches of frost release them. Pick them with a paring knife in hand, and right there in the garden carve away the dirt-clotted roots and the top.
There’s still a bit of kale too, left over from all of our winter pickings. Kale can be picked right back to the stem, and then in spring, old stems will die out, and newer ones will sprout leaves. Kale is a fabulous plant and I’ll write about it in a future post.
Carrots also over-winter, with the help of some mulching. Sometimes we pick them all in fall, but other years we leave some in the ground. They become very sweet with the cold weather, and are a real treat in spring.
It’s hard to find a better storage system than the in-ground variety. It saves on picking, hauling, canning, packing, or whatever is needed for indoor storage. There’s plenty to do in the fall and leaving some stuff in the dirt is the easy way to go. Tossing on some mulch is required for slightly less hardy plants (like carrots) to survive, but hardy ones need no special attention at all. Walk away. Let winter happen, and rejoin in spring.
There’s really a lot to be said for not pulling up everything in the fall. Over-wintered foods are a real treat in spring; the flavors have no comparison. In the interlude between finishing up stored foods and waiting for the later spring veggies, they don’t just fill in this space, but are a flavorful sign of spring and something to look forward to. -jmm