We hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving Day with family and friends, as did we. It is always a pleasure to use homegrown ingredients in the kitchen, and the traditional Thanksgiving feast is no exception. We had cabbage, carrots, sage, parsley, thyme, scallions and lettuce from the garden. I purchased sweet potatoes at the Farmer’s Market a month or so ago, and kept them in storage. For the remaining ingredients, turkey, cranberries, and so forth, we sought out local, regional, or organic products to the extent possible. As a result, I think we had one of the tastiest, most wholesome Thanksgiving dinners in recent memory, one to be thankful for, in fact.
WINTER CROPS ENHANCE MARKET MEALSAlthough the harvest in the coming months is likely to be rather small, a touch of homegrown here and there can take a meal from routine to special. Our number one cold weather gardening project is growing herbs. Fortunately, our climate is sufficiently mild that French thyme, Greek oregano, chives, sage and rosemary are perennial. Freshly cut herbs really perk up dishes made with canned, frozen or imported produce, and growing them saves a fortune. Typically, a little bunch of herbs at the grocery costs about $2.00, and the amount is usually more than I need for a couple of meals. So the herbs sometimes languish in the fridge and eventually wind up in the compost bin. Not so with homegrown herbs.
Three members of the carrot family, parsley, cilantro, and chervil, all grow well through the winter here. To be sure of a continuous supply, however, it is best to give them a bit of protection. I have a pot of chervil in the greenhouse, just in case something unfortunate happens to the ones growing out in the garden. Parsley can be potted up and brought indoors for the winter, or you can start a few plants in late summer for the purpose. Outdoors, parsley grows and produces on all but the coldest days. If you grow in a coldframe, cilantro seeds can be started in succession all winter long. They grow slowly but will yield enough to garnish your favorite Asian and Latino creations.Another herb that tolerates cold well is dill. However, you must time seed sowing so the plants will be a couple of feet tall before frost arrives. This can be tricky, since the seeds take a long time to germinate. My last sowing is only about six inches tall now, and refuses to grow taller. I suspect I will have a bumper crop of dill in the spring, but during cold weather I will have to be content with a few sprigs here and there.
Cabbage and carrots have been our best fall crops. We enjoyed coleslaw made from freshly picked ‘Savoy Perfection’ cabbage for Thanksgiving. This cultivar is recommended for fall sowing, and tolerates cold well, as do most plants with "savoyed" leaves. More heads of this and ‘Early Flat Dutch’ await harvest in the greenhouses. Carrots in outdoor beds remain crisp and delicious all winter, and we pull them as needed.Spinach that we planted in September is now ready for picking, and this year’s crop is among our better efforts. We sow the seed heavily, then thin for baby spinach when the plants are four inches tall. When they reach six inches, we pick entire plants and leave others to grow throughout the winter. By leaving larger plants with space between, we can extend the harvest until next February.
Our favorite local garden center, Stanley’s Greenhouse, is planning to offer grafted tomatoes next season. We can’t wait to try this new concept. Grafted tomatoes have been used for commercial production for years, but recently growers have begun grafting them for the home gardener. The idea is simple. An heirloom plant with desirable fruit characteristics is grafted upon a rootstock with disease and pest resistance. Presto! A plant with heirloom taste and hybrid adaptability. Monte Stanley told me he plans to offer five types, including the popular Cherokee Purple and the scrumptious Brandywine. Thomas Jefferson grew Brandywine tomatoes at Monticello, but they are difficult to grow in the Tennessee Valley because they lack disease resistance. This may be an opportunity for homegrown taste Jefferson would have appreciated.If you are interested in grafted tomatoes, it might be wise to let them know at Stanley’s, as quantities will necessarily be limited.