Today The Kale Chronicles features a guest post from Kuya Minogue of Creston, British Columbia, who shares what she has learned about winter gardening in her locale. Kuya and I met at a Natalie Goldberg writing retreat in New Mexico. When I saw a Facebook post of hers on harvesting greens from her winter garden I asked her to share her garden story with you. Although it is May and not winter in the northern hemisphere now, perhaps it will allow some of you cold-climate gardeners to plan next year’s winter garden. You can find more of Kuya at zenwords here.
When it’s twenty below Centigrade outside and the garden is buried under four feet of snow, it’s hard to imagine that under the plastic cloches and row covers in the greenhouse beds, the spinach, lettuce, chard and cilantro that I seeded in late August are lying dormant, waiting for a warm day to awaken them from their winter hibernation. But it only takes a few warm days in mid-winter to bring them out of sleep and into a delicious and completely alive salad.
Last year, we had a week of above zero sunshine in Creston, BC where my winter garden lives, and by the end of that week, when I removed the cloche from the spinach bed, I found salad ready greens. The leaves were thick and juicy. There’s nothing better than a garden fresh salad in January, and the amazing thing is that all it took was one plastic snow-covered cloche to keep the plants alive and a few warm days to make a salad. When the weather turned cold again, I recovered the spinach and it lived through another two months of frost.
In that January warm spell, when I looked at the lettuce under the row cover inside the greenhouse, the leaves were so withered that I thought that winter had taken them. But by the first week of March, the lettuce had revived, and by the second week of April, we were eating fresh spinach and lettuce salads straight out of the garden. I was afraid the lettuce would be bitter, but only the outside leaves had the taint of winter. The butterball at the centre of the plant was crisp and fresh, and tasted like summer.
I don’t like to mix my first collection of winter salad greens with store bought tomatoes, cucumbers or avocado. I prefer to sprinkle winter garden green onions and a handful of garden-fresh cilantro over the greens, and to make a lemon and olive oil dressing that has a squirt of liquid honey and tamari sauce, and a sprinkling of minced garlic from last year’s garden. From first bite to the last, I’m transported to the warm days of summer.
Hardy greens survive the winter too: chard, kale and a chinese vegetable whose name I don’t know are ready to eat by mid March. By mid April, they are so prolific that I invite anyone who comes to the Zen Centre to meditate or do some yoga to take a mixture of these greens and some winter garden onions home with them so they can clean them, cut them into bite size pieces and then stir fry them in sesame seed oil, lemon juice and tamari. The cooking greens are also delicious if I simply steam them and eat them with a little butter.
I learned about winter gardening when one of my Zen students, a horticulturalist, offered to give a Winter Gardening Class at the zendo. Having lived through many years of Canadian winters, I was skeptical when we seeded the beds in late August and then put them under cover in mid-October. It just seemed impossible that anything as delicate as spinach or lettuce could survive the winter. But I was wrong. Even in Canada, we can grow greens in the winter and eat garden-fresh salad in the spring. If we can do it here, you can do it anywhere.