8.23.2008

Winter harvest

I am planting like a mad woman. It began in the night, beneath a reading lamp with my dog and boyfriend fast asleep beside me. The only sounds as the clock ticked towards two a.m. were those of the pages turning, the trees howling, and the ebb and flow of my own breath.
















It was a book by Eliot Coleman that had me up. Four Season Harvest, it was called. A friend had turned me on to it, touting the text as a sacred book of sorts, a recipe for winter locavore survival in the universe beyond southern California. (You will notice, if you think through the most famous advocates of the trend—Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, even—that none of them lived in New England. Or really anywhere even close.) I have been drying and freezing and canning for winter, certainly, but I cannot expect us to live off of those provisions alone. There will have to be fresh food, too, and for that I had not yet devised a plan.

Until I met Eliot. With his seed lists and cold frames and construct-your-own root cellar diagrams, the winter gardening guru swept me off my feet. I lingered over his words until there was nothing left, until the only respite from learning was action itself. I hurried to the garden store in the morning, picked up a truckload of compost and a stack of seeding flats, and made my way home to place an order. Johnny's Selected Seeds, Eliot recommended. Arugula and claytonia and miner's lettuce and raddichio; evergreen scallions and kohlrabi and nero tondo black radishes. There were candy carrots and Asian specialty greens, celery and celeriac and broccoli raab. While the growing season might end, he reminded me, the harvest season need not.

Plenty of these crops could survive a hard frost. Frozen each night and thawed back to life during the day, they would remain fresh and hardy all winter long. Early spring varieties could be started now, too, ready to emerge once daylight returns.

It was revolutionary this idea of winter garden as Eden. The French do it, and the English, and others with our latitude and climate, but somehow in translation the tradition was lost. Without a custom of winter gardening, it is a difficult reality to grasp.

But there is only one way to begin, and that is to give it a try. I'm not expecting this year's harvest of tatsoi to keep us fed, but I do hope it will help point us in the right direction. Maybe if we spread the word, one of these seasons will bring a winter farmers' market. Until then here's a list of seeds and dates to start growing your own.

WINTER HARVEST PLANTING DATES*

*Note that these planting dates are for Coleman's farm in Maine, which has a slightly shorter season and harsher temperatures. I'd guess they can be extended at least a week, if not two, for Cape gardeners.

BROCCOLI RAAB 7/1 to 8/1
CABBAGE, CHINESE 7/15 to 8/1
CELERY/CELERIAC 7/1 to 8/1
CORNSALAD 8/15 to 9/15
CLAYTONIA 8/15 to 9/15
DANDELION (ITALIAN) 7/15 to 9/1
ENDIVE, ESCAROLE 7/1 to 8/15
GARLIC (FOR SPRING) 10/20
KALE ("WINTERBOR," "VATES") 7/1 to 8/1
KOHLRABI ("PURPLE KOLIBRI") 7/1 to 8/1
LETTUCE 7/15 to 9/1
MIZUNA 7/15 to 8/15
GREEN ONION ("EVERGREEN HARDY WHITE") 7/15 to 8/15
RADICCHIO 10/15 to 11/15
RADISH ("ROUND BLACK SPANISH") 7/15 to 9/15
SPINACH ("SPACE," "WINTER BLOOMSDALE") 8/1 to 9/1
SORREL 9/1

2 comments :

Anonymous said...

This is so inspiring, Elspeth. Clearly, I need to get and read this book asap. Last year, for the first time, we had a winter farmers' market here in Midcoast Maine, in Bath. It was open every other week and was so popular that I believe it may be weekly this winter. I've also heard there may be a weekly winter market right here in Brunswick (the adjoining town). So the idea is catching on. If consumers can prove that there's a market for the goods, the farmers will be only too happy to oblige us. ~Elizabeth

Elspeth Pierson said...

I am so jealous...let's hope we get one here soon!

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