Welcome to winter! It's only a couple of months early. Records were broken for snowfall all over our region, although none at all fell here at the house. East Tennessee received snow before Colorado's Front Range area, something that has not previously happened in living memory. Some areas of South Carolina received snow on November 1 for the first time since records have been kept. If this is any indication of the winter we have in store, we should all be making some preparations.
With the falling temperatures, the garden has rapidly entered dormancy. Our first killing frost occurred overnight, as evidenced by brown leaves and collapsed, mushy foliage. Turnip greens, collards and kale are all unfazed, however, and will continue to provide nutritious meals for another month, at least. The snap peas should hang on for a while, too. We will probably harvest the last of the pods today, but the shoots, the outermost 8 inches of each branch, will remain usable until we have a really hard freeze. I like to add pea shoots whole to stir fried dishes. Add them at the end, as you would spinach or another delicate vegetable. They are also good in other dishes where you might use blanched spinach as an ingredient.
Our last planting of lettuces has also fared well. They are located in a spot that is somewhat protected by tall grasses, and have escaped frost damage. Combined with a few of the cherry tomatoes that continue to ripen in the basket on the kitchen counter, they will make a few more salads before the weather finally does them in. Sorrel is another green crop that does not mind the cold too much. It adds a lemony note to salads, and can be added to soups, too. The leaves get particularly large and succulent during cool weather. Sorrel is a perennial, although in the Tennessee Valley it may heat-kill during a particularly oppressive summer season.The plants form a mound about two feet in diameter, and are easy to grow if you have a suitable spot. Sorrel likes water, and protection from harsh afternoon sun.
With the prospect of a bad winter, now is the time to make preparations in case you are without electricity, or the roads are impassable. Here in East Tennessee, it can sometimes take a long time for road crews to reach all the secondary roads, owing to the fact that most winters are mild. If you live away from the city as we do, it is possible to be stranded for a day or two. Therefore, we always try to anticipate problems and prepare for them.
If you have preserved some of your garden harvest, you should have a well-stocked pantry. Make sure you keep staples on hand. Flour, sugar, coffee, tea, rice, dried beans, oil and cornmeal constitute my short list. Don't forget paper products and soap. If you have pets, make sure to keep their foods on hand, too. We have gas heat, which is unlikely to be interrupted. Nevertheless, we keep a tank of propane and a propane indoor space heater in the garage, just in case. We also have a butane stove, and a couple of extra cans of fuel, so we can cook even if power for the electric range is out. This is also a good time to check your medicine cabinet for first aid items. If anyone in your family takes prescription medicine, be sure they have enough on hand to last a couple of days.
If you have children, also be prepared with games or whatever other activities you deem appropriate, in case they are home from school for a while.
Generally speaking, our worst winter disruptions only last a day or two. Taking a few simple precautions can make the difference between a miserable time and a relatively pleasant one.