Homeyer | Garden Notes: Plan to Grow Winter Vegetables | Outside

I’m probably not the only person determined to lose some weight after all those delicious but fattening meals and desserts served over the holidays. One way to feel fuller and lose weight is to eat more salads and eat more vegetables. That’s my plan, anyway, and I recently took stock of what’s lying around in my storage fridge. I still have some great summer veggies that still taste great and satisfy my hunger.

Digging through the crisper drawer, I noticed several kohlrabi that I had grown last summer, but hadn’t been touched in months. I was ready to dislike them because they had been stored for so long. I peeled one, cut it into half inch cubes and added to my evening salad. That was delicious! It’s even delicious as a low-calorie snack on its own.

Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family, but is not well known or widely cultivated. It looks like an alien in the garden: it’s a kind of above-ground root vegetable. Round or oblong, it can be green or purple, with leaves emerging from the beet-shaped “tuber” on bare stems. It is crunchy and tastes a bit like broccoli, which belongs to the same family. It can be used to make coleslaw when grated with carrots.

Buy a packet of kohlrabi seeds and plant them in early June or late May. They are fast growing plants that only need a little space to grow well. If you want kohlrabi all winter long to add to stir fries, plant a green one called ‘Kossak’ which grows large – up to 8 or 10 inches in diameter – and keeps for up to 4 months in a cool place. and very humid such as the crisper or your refrigerator. I get seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine, but they are also available from High Mowing, Gurney’s, and Park Seeds, among others.

I also found half a purple cabbage that had been lying around in my vegetable drawer since September. I expected it to be stale, but that was fine. Cabbage is fairly easy to grow, but I often don’t care about it because I don’t use it much – it’s cheap and readily available. I grated some and added to a green salad, adding color and volume.

I had a good harvest of onions last summer. I buy onion seedlings from Johnny’s Seeds most years instead of planting seedlings from seed indoors. When I start from seeds, I start them under lights around March 1st. When I start mine, even in strong light near the seedlings, they are still a little fragile. Some of the plants I get from Johnny’s are almost as thick as a pencil, and peel off and start growing immediately. The kind I grow are yellow onions, one called ‘Patterson’. They keep for months in a cool place, but will sprout and soften if left in the hot kitchen in a bowl.

Plants come in bunches of 50-60, depending on their catalog, but last year I got closer to 100 plants per bunch. Onions don’t like competition, so weed early and often. Space your onions about 3 inches apart in the row, with rows at least 8 inches apart. They like soft, rich soil, so be sure to add plenty of compost and mix well. You can also start onions from “sets”, which look like small bulbs – but less vigorous than plants.

What else am I eating from the garden now? Garlic. It’s easy to grow, but if you didn’t plant one last October, you’re probably out of luck. It establishes its roots in the fall, goes dormant and appears early in the spring. It is rarely available for purchase in the spring. I was in California one spring and bought some soft neck garlic in the spring, and it did pretty well here. You can try planting last year’s garlic in the spring if you have any left over, but this is not recommended.

Potatoes are also a mainstay on my winter menu. I know, they are generally not recommended for dieters. But that’s partly because of how they’re served. They’re a healthy starch, but many of us tend to load potatoes with sour cream or butter. Add them to a stew or stir-fry, and they’re still tasty but a whole lot less calorie-dense.

I once went 20 years without buying a potato. I have grown many and saved a few to plant out each spring. By only eating mine, I went a few months with nothing waiting for my new crop to be ready. But it was a matter of principle to eat only mine. Commercial potatoes, if not grown organically or if not following IPM guidelines, can carry heavy loads of pesticides.

The trick to getting lots of potatoes is to grow them in full sun. You can get potatoes where there are only 6 hours of sunshine a day, but the more sunshine, the more potatoes. And don’t let potato beetles defoliate your plants. Check the leaves, including the underside, for orange egg masses or larvae often as they begin to develop. They can multiply exponentially if you allow early beetles to multiply.

Having a vegetable garden is of course a certain work. But it not only provides me with good, healthy, organic vegetables, it saves me a lot of money and keeps me active in the garden. As we age, the more we exercise, the better. So start reading catalogs or seed company websites and plan what you are going to plant in the spring. Me? I can not wait !

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