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Winter wonderland

June 16, 2010

So, er…about those gardening posts. I’ve been slack, I know. Still haven’t gotten around to posting about starting a plot, and winter’s probably not the best time to do that, what with the rain pelting down relentlessly. The good thing about all that rain is that you can plant stuff and it’ll grow quite happily, even outside, if you plant the right stuff. Here are some things that I like growing over winter, because things don’t grow so crazy fast that you have to keep a constant eye on everything. You also don’t have to buy a huge bag of greens and use them all at once, or let them languish in the fridge. A leaf or two to garnish or complement a sandwich, or salad, is always at hand.

my favourite red lettuce (mesclun mix), mildly sweet with a slight juicy crunch – incomparable to any supermarket lettuce!

The thing about some winter greens is that some actually taste better if they go through a frost. Bok choy is one example, and while it’s not typically thought of as a winter vegetable, it grows well during winter as the dreaded cabbage butterfly isn’t as prevalent. It also gets more tender and tastier after a frost.

Unknown lettuce, from (mesclun mix). Less sweet and crunchy, good for sandwiches where you don’t want a strong flavour

I got a bit snap happy, so I’ve put most of the photos behind a cut. If you’re a pro gardener, have a look at some of the green because I have no idea what some of them are, many of them came in my mesclun mix. There are labels for most things though, and a description of their taste, so you can at least get seeds you know you’ll like. One of my peeves was that few books or guides would tell you any of this information. I’ve linked to the seed packet I bought too, most of my seeds are from Kings Seeds. They have the best information, price, and range, and the couriered seeds some within days.

Come wander through my garden with me, I think you’ll be surprised at how much stuff can grow at this time of year. I used to think winter was all about waiting for leeks and broccoli to mature, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as you start seedlings inside, and make sure the soil is damp when you transplant them into the ground or into larger pots, you should be fine. You don’t need full sun for them either, although having a bit of morning sun is ideal. In fact, if you give them too much sun they go to seed faster and need more watering. Also, a note about pot planting – lettuces are fine in shallowish pots since they have quite shallow roots, but anything else tends to prefer having as much room as they’d like if they’re going to grow large. Lettuces planted in pots also tend to get chomped by bugs less.

a curly lettuce (mesclun mix)

This one is not crunchy, and has a slight bitterness to it, which isn’t mustardy. It’s great for adding texture and volume to salads.

Kale, red russian (mesclun mix or on  its own)

Kale is experiencing a revival, since it grows in cold weather (as it doesn’t suffer from cabbage butterflies), and is super healthy. Taste wise it’s not strong so you can cook it like spinach, but it will stay together better. Any kale is yummiest with garlic, as chips (although I’d prefer the curly kind for chips), or made into potato and kale soup. Kale is not available at supermarkets generally speaking, but farmer’s markets start selling it now all through winter if you want to try some before you start growing it.

snow pea plant

You can eat the snow pea plant like a green before it gets longer than 20cm, and the snow peas themselves are so sweet and crunchy when fresh! Usually supermarket ones are pretty limp and sorry looking. To eat whole, as is normal, pick when the peas are still very small. Snow peas are great if your soil isn’t very high in nitrogen, as peas put nitrogen into the soil, which acts as a fertiliser. If you plant them now, you’ll have snow pea plants ready to flower in spring and deliver you snow peas in spring. They like maximum sun.

Miner’s lettuce

Miner’s lettuce pretty much tastes and feels like spinach, but the leaves are heart shaped and they grow cute little flowers in the leaf. Great for salad or used like spinach. They’re bloody everywhere now after I let them all go to seed in summer, but since I can eat them, I’d much rather my soil covered with something edible! If you have chickens, I think they like this stuff. So do bunnies. Don’t ask how I know.

Flat parsley

Parsley but flat, so it’s easier to wash. The shape of the leaves changes a little as they age. The above picture is of kinda old parsley.

Unknown, from mesclun mix

This stuff tastes like bok choy but you can put it in salads throughout it’s entire lifespan and it doesn’t get more bitter with age. The leaves are relatively tender. Few pest problems.

Mizuna, a bit older, as opposed to mizuna when it’s a bit younger:

Mizuna is very mild when young and tastes like bok choy when mature. It has a tender leaf and looks really pretty in salads. It seems to require quite good soil to grow well, and not too much sun or it will mature very quickly.

Chicory dandelion red rib, from mesclun mix.

How pretty is that streak of red?! Perfect for winter salads when tomatoes aren’t in season. Unfortunately you should eat this when it’s young, because it’s quite bitter and definitely something you want in a mixture of leafy things.

Chickweed that just randomly started growing in a pot I left

Chickweed is used as a herbal remedy for eczema. I think it’s a nice garnish to winter salads. It’s traditionally considered a weed, but I like my soil to be covered over the winter (soil doesn’t like sun, which scorches the beneficial stuff in the soil). As it’s considered a weed I don’t think you can buy it, but the upside is that it’s free!

The American rocket – arugula

This is a mustardy green, which gets stronger as it matures. Unlike normal NZ rocket, this prefers warmer temperatures, but it’ll handle cold weather grudgingly. As you can see I’ve picked this poor plant to death.

Unknown, from mesclun mix

Mustardy crossed with the refreshing taste of bok choy, with a sturdy leaf. I love the shape, it looks sort of alien.

Unknown lettuce from mesclun mix

Slightly bitter with a thin leaf. Good for sandwiches or lining serving plates as it’s nice and flat.

Mizuna red coral, from mesclun mix

The name is deceiving, because this only tastes like mizuna when it’s young. Then it gets super super mustardy (as in, you will need to mix it with other things if you want to keep your tastebuds). I love the colour and volume it adds to salads, and on crackers with cheese it’s brilliant. It also doesn’t matter if it gets eaten by bugs, because you don’t notice the bits that have been bitten! Also it’s super easy to grow.

Some sort of reddish lettuce, from mesclun mix

This one is still young and the leaves are getting curlier, and has a slight red/brown tinge on the rim of the new leaves. Slightly bitter with crunchy stalks.

Baby bok choy, from my Dad or at Kings

The baby leaves are great in salads, after that you just pick the outer leaves for stir fries and keep going until the plant goes to seed. The yellow flowers are edible, too. If buying commercial bok choy and want to save the seeds, don’t get hybrid varieties. Likes frosts (it will look super unhappy but will perk up). The only thing you have to watch out for is slugs and the cabbage butterfly if planting in summer. This is their absolute favourite leafy green. “Pak choi” is the same thing, but it’s Cantonese spelling. I grew these in my backyard which at the moment gets no direct sunlight. Am amazed anything grows there at all really, but there you go!

Baby spinach on the windowsill

Spinach is the ultimate winter vegetable, although it is also grown in summer. Spinach does seem to like a bit of sun, and to be started off indoors. It likes a lot of pot space too and very rich soil. It doesn’t taste like a whole lot and has a very tender leaf.

Spring onions/green onions/scallions from my Dad, or at most supermarkets

Spring onions aren’t traditionally grown in winter, but they are frost tolerant and just grow slower in winter. They like a fair bit of sun. Cut the green outer bits off for a constant supply until the plant starts growing a flower bud, or uproot when there are at least 4-5 long green bits.

Unknown, from mesclun mix

Long, flat, sturdy serrated leaves, slightly peppery in flavour. Good in salads for variety.

Rosemary, free from Kakariki, UC green club. Best grown from cuttings, available at most garden centres or hardware stores

The ultimate winter herb. Tolerates pretty dry, shitty soil and frosts. Mine isn’t growing very fast though! Can be used decoratively, and harder stems can be used as skewers! To use the leaves strip the stems first. Best ground a little or ripped up to release flavour.

I also have thyme and sage which are winter herbs, but I couldn’t be bothered photographing them. They’re so common; if you want to know what they look like, google will give you that.

I bundled together the last of the green tomatos (left them on the vine obviously) and attached it to my curtain rail with a cable tie. Most of them are about ready to eat now, yay!

Lastly, this is my fail attempt at growing gilia bird’s eye. Don’t ask. The flowers are supposed to smell like chocolate, so I impulse-bought. I tried planting them from spring, and not a single plant popped up except an attempt at the end of summer, so I’m keeping the precious thing indoors right by the window. You know how many flowers this thing has?

Yeeeeeaaaaaahhhhh. It has been like that for about a week now. I know it needs warmth but I’m doggedly keeping it in my room because there’s no room in the much warmer living room. Also who would want to look at it right now?! Part of it has started growing in its water catcher >.<

Oh yes, and I’m growing garlic (not in the right season, haha) and leeks. Not very interesting at this stage, but wow, the leaves are amazing to eat. Great if you’re making your own stock.

Anyway, that’s the state of my garden right now. It’s ridiculously happy about all the recent rain, since I’m a lazy waterer. If you’d like some seeds actually I’d be happy to post them to you for free, as long as I don’t get any international requests. Honestly, I’m not really short on seeds. So. Any New Zealand gardeners out there?

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