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sorting-stored-carrots

First off, where have I been? You ask.

Well, in Jan/Feb we took a trip, month and a half of fun and sun in the desert. Hardly looked at a computer while I was gone. It broke the addiction. By the time I got back, I had remembered that I don’t like computers. Took a full month for the twisted hunger to gnaw into my belly again. And here I am.

So yes, I re-hauled my carrots! Much of my garden harvest of these tasty roots got tucked away in damp (okay, actually wet) sawdust, in a five-gallon bucket in our garage, which stays a lovely root cellar temperature in the winter. I put them up in October.

carrot-with-a-rot-spot

Purple carrot with a rot spot, can you see it, dead center?

Lately I had noticed that a few of the carrots I was pulling out every few days had bad spots. When you’re storing vegetables, a little rot can go a long way. So the other day I hauled the still half full bucket into the kitchen and went through my lovelies, one by one, picking out any with bad spots, and repacking the rest.

I guess I had secretly feared that at the bottom of the bucket there’d be a whole layer of rotten carrots, so I was ever so pleased to find only a dozen or so that had to be culled.

The carrots were still in great shape, all things considered. But they were getting fairly hairy with rootlets searching for soil, and some of them were growing 3 or 4 inch long new tops, all blanched a weird greenish-white from growing in the dark. I wonder if the sawdust being wet instead of the recommended damp made them more eager to grow, they did seem rooty-er as I got down deeper in the bucket, where the wetness had settled. Our garage stays quite cool, but

I layered them in a box, with sawdust between the layers

I layered them in a box, with sawdust between the layers

ideal root cellar temps are like 33-35 degrees, and our garage, cool as it is, ain’t that cold. And after all, it is April 3rd today. Those carrots have been in that bucket for more than 5 months. And they’re still crunchy and sweet!

Ordinarily you store root vegetables in a bucket, to keep the moisture in, but mine were so wet, a box seemed a better idea. I’ll keep an eye on them and cover the box with a garbage bag when they start to dry out a little.

So with my culled carrots nicely trimmed, I decided to make some muffins. My little one just learned to say “muffin” (though she makes the “ff” sound by blowing out through her nose, very cute) so of course it’s her new favorite food. I adapted my pumpkin bread recipe, and it turned out dee-lish!

Carrot Muffins

carrot-muffins½ c. white all-purpose flour
1 ¼ c. whole wheat pastry flour
¾ c. sugar
½ t. baking powder
¾ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
½ t. cinnamon
¼ t. each nutmeg, ginger, cloves
2 eggs
¼ c. + 2 T. oil
2 c. lightly packed grated carrots
2 T. water
½ c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk dry stuff together to break up lumps in the whole wheat flour. Make a well in the center and whisk the wet stuff together. Stir it all together and spoon into greased muffin cups (batter will be very thick). Sprinkle nuts on top. Bake 15-25 mins, till nicely browned and a knife comes out clean. If you want to make bread instead, bake at 350, 40-50 mins.

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the kale bed in early December

the kale bed in early December

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.

frozen-kale

frozen solid kale

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

revived

revived

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

add-kale-to-onionsSlice 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

orange-chard

This may seem a strange time to be thinking garden, but the deepest depths of winter is when I think most about my garden. I do my best to keep notes all summer, but I don’t sit down and process what I’ve learned until January. So now, as you can see by my garden review, I’m processing. In preperation for a dive into the seed catalogs.

We might as well get this out of the way: I adore seed catalogs to the point of addiction.

I try to limit myself to ordering from just two catalogs, and two or three varieties of each vegetable, but it’s hard. All those different colors and shapes of carrots, how could I choose just one? In my defense, I’ve found that in our marginal climate, variety can be hugely important. Tuscan Black kale, gorgeous and delicious though it is, freezes out months earlier than Red Siberian (I grow both, and just harvest my Tuscan first).

Next summer though is going to be a very different garden. We’re leaving for some as yet unknown big city down south in early August (my husband’s going to law school!), and around here, not much matures before August. Lettuce, radishes, broccoli, bunching onions. Going through the seed catalogs is going to be a serious lesson in restraint!

So, my point was to share my faves, and I definitely think you should order real paper catalogs– there’s nothing like curling up in a chair by the woodstove with a hot cup of coffee and a stack of seed catalogs!

Seeds of Change is by far the most eye-candy garden catalog. And all their seed is organic. But I get some “too-smooth” vibe off of it and wasn’t too surprised to hear it’s owned by Mars.

Seed Saver’s Exchange is the folks I feel best buying from. Their main thing is an actual exchange you can sign up ($30) to be a part of– you get a giant book of varieties grown and offered by other seed savers all over the country. You basically just pay for shipping and they send you some. But for the rest of us, SSE also has a regular catalog, full of beautiful heirloom varieties.

However, considering all the varieties I need to try, I can’t afford to order all my seed from the above two, so I also order lots from Pinetree Garden Seeds. Their deal is xtra small packages of seed, for a very low price. Who really needs 500 broccolis anyway? Their seed packets are plenty big for most things (except carrots, and anything you plant real thick to harvest as a baby salad) and cost around $1.

Well kids, enjoy! And be careful!

“It’s a sad and stupid thing to have to proclaim yourself a revolutionary just to be a decent man.”

-David Harris

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