I’ve been harvesting from my garden all through the winter. It’s not the coldest, snowiest of places, here in Cordovaland, but I’d say it’s cold enough, and snowy enough. People are shocked to see me out there, lifting the snowy skirts of my plastic hoop houses, and pulling out live foods. Basically what I pull out is leeks, and lots of kale. They are both incredibly, jaw-droppingly hardy, but kale especially. I just adore that damn plant. Takes a licking and keeps on… It’s tenacity is inspirational. If I pastored a big tent revival church, I’d preach kale.
But having a winter garden covered in plastic means keeping a rough tab on how much snow is piling up, and shoveling/sweeping the hoops off occasionally, to keep the plastic from ripping. Though I have been really impressed at the strength of this greenhouse plastic I got from Peaceful Valley Farm (just so’s everyone knows, if you’re in the market for said material, call PVF and ask what they’ve got for “remnants,” these pieces are plenty big for home growers, and sell for 30 cents cheaper per ft!) I didn’t want to leave it unattended. We’re leaving Sunday for a month and a half, and so, on my long list of buttoning-up-the-old-ranch projects was to dig out the kale bed and harvest whatever was left.
The plastic was covered with a one foot blanket of soft light snow which fell just before our last cold snap. I had left the snow there to help insulate against the cold. It was down to 5-10 degrees for a couple of weeks. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to find under there.
Not surprisingly, what I found was a lot of frozen kale. I hacked it all off and brought it inside. Dunked it in a big bowl of water, trimmed off the limp, slimy leaves and viola! About two thirds of those frozen solid leaves perked right
up into nice fresh greens. The rest went to my chooks.
I ought to clarify that not all kale is this headstrong. I grow Tuscan black and love it too, but it doesn’t last through November. What you need for a winter kale is Siberian or Russian kale. I grow the red kind ‘cuz it’s sooo purty. The curly green kinds are pretty hardy too. But my Siberian Red stumpy stems, with all the leaves harvested off, frozen in the ground all winter, even without cover, will sometimes sprout new leaves in the spring! Miniature uber-tender kale salads. All hale the kale!
But now you, who’ve never eaten and hardly seen a kale, are asking,
“But what do I do with it?”
Homegrown kale is mild and delicious. Harvested after a frost or two, it’s almost sweet. Hacked down mid-cold snap, it’s downright heavenly. I like to make a burly salad with thinly shredded kale, tart apple, and toasted walnuts, same as my Winter Mainstay Cabbage Salad. But when you cut the plants frozen, like I did yesterday, a lot of the leaves will be kind of soft for salading.
Fine for cookin’ though. I’d like to get more creative someday, but I have yet to get sick of this simple recipe:
Carmelized Onions and Winter Kale
Slice half an onion and saute in plenty of butter over med-low heat till soft and golden.
Wash and roughly shred a big heap of kale (it shrinks! Make sure you have plenty!) and add it to the pan. Put a lid on, keep the heat low and cook till the kale is tender, but still vivid green, five minutes or so. The water clinging to the leaves should be plenty, but add a teeny bit more if it gets too dry.
Salt to taste and enjoy!
Now, in case I got you creamin’ yer panties for some winter gardening info, here’s my fave two books:
- The Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman
- Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest: Cool Season Crops for the Year Round Gardener by Binda Colebrook