Thursday, November 3, 2011

Around the Yard: Cold Hardy Greens

This was my first year planting a fall garden. The fall frost date around here is early - September 1st - and winter temperatures can drop quite low. A city slightly south of where we live dropped to -50°C (-58°F) back in the 80s. While it doesn't often get that cold here, it does get as cold as -30°C (-22°F) on a regular basis. The idea of growing things into the fall or even early winter never occurred to me until I read Elliot Coleman's, 'Four Season Harvest'. While we do not garden in the same zone as Elliot Coleman, the idea of choosing cold hardy varieties suitable to our area to extend the gardening and harvesting season makes a lot of sense.

Temperatures have been dipping well below freezing on a regular basis for some time now, but our little box of cold hardy greens remains alive and well. In hindsight, I should have planted more greens, earlier. It is important to start your winter greens early enough to allow for sufficient growth. As the hours of sunlight decrease and the temperatures drop, the greens stop growing altogether and remain as a sort of living salad bar. Elliot Coleman's book provides advice on how to figure out the best start date. As the season progresses, the later you start your seeds, the longer they will take to reach maturity, meaning, the number of days to maturity might differ from the packet's 'days to maturity'.

As I learned, it does vary from plant to plant, and area to area, so experiment and keep records! I definitely didn't get it right the first time. Our salad greens remain baby size because I started them at the end of August, rather than at the beginning when I should have. 

When eating cold hardy greens, be prepared for a change in texture and taste - they will not be the same as the early summer lettuce varieties. Cold hardy greens are slightly more tough and chewy, and have a mild bitter aftertaste, making many of them good candidates for sautéing. Our experimental line up, in order of least bitter tasting to most (the last being still quite mild):

 Batavian Endive

 Red Deer Tongue Lettuce (not showing any red yet)

 Red Oak Leaf Lettuce

 Forellenschuss Lettuce

The green and red leaves have been such a welcoming sight amidst all of the browns and yellows of the season!

Seed Sources:
The Cottage Gardener,

Linked to Simple Lives Thursday, Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard, Living Well, Gallery of Favorites, Barn Hop, Harvest Monday, Outdoor Wednesday.


Robin said...

You have a great blog! I already copied your Fighting Blight recipe.

I started growing during the cold months in cold frames last year. It's so wonderful to have fresh food all year. All I need to do now, is start some of my crops a little earlier!

Thanks for joining in Thursday's Kitchen Cupboard. Your recipe sounds great!

wilderness said...

First time I have visited your blog. Very interesting. Fortunately I don't have the allergies of food in my family but do like to avoid packaged products as much as possible and am trying to be as self sustaining as possible with my gardens. I will need to come back when I have more time to read.

kitsapFG said...

You point out the problem most people encounter when trying to grow late fall and over wintering crops - they dont' start them early enough and don't have mature enough crops going into the increasing dark days of winter. Your crops look great and it sounds like you are getting your timing groove down for fall and winter gardening. Well done!

Prairie Cat said...

Love your pictures! I didn't plant any fall crops this year, and you are making me regret that decision... unfortunately we only had so many beds to plant in and I couldn't bear to rip up anything that was still producing.

Hopefully this time next year I will have some wonderful fall salads like you are enjoying!

Shanon Hilton said...

Robin - likewise with the earlier! Thanks for commenting. :)

Wilderness: It's a good feeling being more self-reliant, isn't it? I hope you'll find time stop back when the gardening season dies down a bit!

KitsapFG: Thanks for the encouraging words. :)

Prairie Cat: That was the very reason my greens were started so late. Next year I will start them in flats and transplant them.

Liz - Suburban Tomato said...

I love the colour ranges in lettuces - just beautiful. I can't help but say: you get how cold??? Those temperatures are unimaginable to me. It must make things challenging to say the least. People in Melbourne whinge about it being cold when it drops below 15 degrees celcius (actually some probably whinge when it gets below 20)I guess its a ll relative.

Shanon Hilton said...

Liz - The cold comes gradually, so we adjust along with it. We often get really cold stretches during January and February, which make winters feel quite long when it gets so cold!

It's funny how 15°C can feel quite cool as summer wanes, but feels incredibly hot heading into spring/summer! It definitely is all relative. :)

Alea Milham said...

We live in the foot hills of the Sierras and even though we drop into sub zero temps, I grow greens all winter long. Kale, spinach, swiss chard, beets(for greens), arugula produce all winter long. They may die back a bit after a particularly bad cold spell, but they always come back. Thank you for sharing your post with the Gallery of Favorites; I always look forward to them!

Shanon Hilton said...

Oh, lucky you and your weather! Isn't it amazing to watch them wilt and then bounce back? Thanks for your nice comment. :)

Daphne said...

I extend my season too. Last year I tried to figure out about when is the last date I should be picking the last greens in my garden. Mostly I can get through December without problems. I'll have to bring out the plastic when the ground starts to freeze permanently, but right now it is just row covers to help with the mild freezes and frosts. But then again I'm in zone 6 so we don't get below -10F.

Barbie said...

My hubby likes them mixed in with his tender (head) lettuces. He enjoys the contrasts - that makes me lucky!

Anonymous said...

Just voted, you have my vote.
I must do better planning next year so that my fall crop will have time to mature.

The 21st Century Housewife© said...

This is an excellent post! I really enjoyed learning more about growing winter greens. I also never thought about sautéing lettuces, but actually that is a wonderful idea! Thank you for sharing this post with the Gallery of Favorites.