This month - Winter gardening is not only easy, the harvests are tastier too! Gardening expert Christian Stephenson explains why.
Broccoli grown in home gardens taste nothing like the similar-looking green stuff that's sold in stores.
Winter Surprises by Ellis Anderson
Rainbow Swiss Chard, delicious and beautiful all winter long
A few winters back, I crunched out to the raised garden bed in our back yard, each step on the frozen grass blades leaving the print of my shoe.We may not get many freezes on the Mississippi Coast, but this one was icicle sharp.The water in the deep dog’s dish outside had frozen solid overnight.
I was worried about the broccoli and chard, not to mention the baby bok choy.All my plants had been thriving.In a few more weeks, we’d be picking the heads of fresh broccoli.Our experience the year before had taught us about real broccoli.Eaten within hours of being harvested, it tasted like a completely different vegetable from the green stuff they sold under the same name in the grocery stores.The taste was so phenomenal, we would merely steam the heads lightly, douse with a bit of melted butter, lemon and salt and savor each bite in an epicurean ecstasy.Stems were peeled and went into soups – not a single morsel of our homegrown variety was wasted.
I was relieved - and a little surprise that the freeze didn’t seem to have harmed a thing in our beds, even though a few of the chard leaves were a bit wilted.Who would have guessed that winter gardening had so many delights?Hardy vegetables that tasted wonderful, fewer pests once the cool weather set in and best of all – no sweat - in more ways than one.Winter gardening involved less perspiration and also less work.We bought young plants at gardening centers, plunked them in the ground with a little long-lasting plant food and waited to eat.The plants were lovely too – in fact, I have vowed to used Rainbow Swiss Chard in my winter flower borders one year.
Christian Stephenson has a wealth of information on winter gardening (and about everything else under the sun). As Hancock’s Agriculture/4-H Agent/County Coordinator, he works for Mississippi State University’s Extension Service.To give you an idea of the extent of Stephenson’s knowledge, he has two masters degrees – one in entomology (the study of insects) and the other in plant pathology (plant diseases).He’s currently working on his doctorate in horticulture.And even talking on the phone to him, you get the idea that he enjoys his extension agent's job - which is holding out a friendly hand to help.
Stephenson points out that we’re most fortunate to live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (not that we needed another!). While those poor people who live up north can only have one garden a year, we can have several!All year long, in fact, if we plan wisely.
“You can use your garden space twice or three times throughout the year,” the agent says.“If you plan from the very beginning, you’ll be able to grow a succession of plants, taking something out when it’s spent and planting something right behind it. “
According to Stephenson, winter gardens are “easier than you think and give more rewards than you can imagine.”He reels off a “whole host” of vegetables that do well in our area during the colder months:
Brussel sprouts in the garden
Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, chard, greens (the wintertime southern food staple), kale,lettuces, spinach, rutabagas, and turnips.
And it turns out that these vegetables even taste better when they’re grown in the winter.In hot weather, a plant goes “all out to defend itself,” and produces substances that can make it taste bitter and sharp.In winter, they relax and let down those defenses.A mellow plant is a delicious one.
Fortunately for novice gardeners like myself and veterans who may just need a reference on occasion, MSU publishes a sensational booklet, the Garden Tabloid.It holds your hand all the way from creating a garden bed to pests and diseases.Download it here in our sidebar!You may also visit their site, the domain name of which is aptly enough "MSU CARES." The site is a silo of information.
Editor's note: As of October 28th, Pine Hills Nursery has some broccoli plants – and other wintery veggies - and says they can order more.7434 Cuevas Rd, Pass Christian, 228.255.9645
The Bay St. Louis Shoofly is published by Ellis Anderson Media. Website design by Ellis Anderson Media. Unless otherwise attributed, all written content and photography copyright 2011 - 2017 by Ellis Anderson.