by Peter Heffelfinger
posted August 31, 2020
Fall and Winter Greens
The arrival of cooler weather means it’s time to plant hardy greens that will mature during the fall and then last through all but the coldest winter weather. In a new raised bed, positioned to catch the low angle of winter sun, I planted four greens I’ve had success with in the past: Miner’s Lettuce, also known as Claytonia or Winter Purslane; Rosette Bok Choy, a hardy Tatsoi variety; Broccoli Raab, also called Rapini or broccoletti; and Mizuna Mustard, a bushy Japanese type. I’m also trying out a new green, Chinese Kale, or Kailaan, that looks like a leafier version of the Broccoli Raab.
Note: add only a minimum of nitrogen to the soil for cold weather greens, to avoid over-production of soft leafy tissue that freezes too easily. I grew peas earlier this year on the soil of the new greens bed, so there should be adequate nitrogen from the root nodes of the legume. I always do work in a bit of kelp meal, which seems to help all plants resist cold.
The Miner’s Lettuce, in spite of its delicate floral look, stands up well all winter and will readily go to seed in the spring. The round, leafy cups have a soft succulent feel in contrast to the stiff fronds of the Lacinato Kale, a hardy green that’s already well-established in other areas of the garden. The Rosette Bok Choy, which grows low to the soil surface and stays green even in light snow, is known as Spoon Choy, since the leaves resemble little spoons. The Broccoli Raab requires the protection of a small hoop house covered with floating row cover, but it will keep offering small buds even during hard cold snaps that leave frozen droplets on its leaves. I’m hoping the Kailaan Kale will have the same hardiness as the Raab, but offering a slightly different texture. There’s always something new to try when you’re cruising the seed racks or going through seed catalogs. And the pictures on the packets always look so perfect.
A second bed will include Purple Top White Globe Turnips, mostly for the greens rather than the roots. Last year I did Tokyo Cross Turnips, a winter variety grown only for the greens. The Tokyo roots eventually grew to the size of a soccer balls, half submerged in the soil, but they kept offering shoots and buds all winter. The key is to keep snipping off the sprigs before they get too long or go to flower in the early spring. If the roots of the Purple Top Turnip do stay small and edible this year, I like them cut into small chunks with the lower part of the stems still attached, then pan-steamed with a little butter and a touch of either soy and/or hot sauce.
I will also put in a fall crop of Purple Kohlrabi, with the unique bulbs that look like slightly flattened tennis balls floating a few inches off the ground. Kohlrabi is good as an appetizer, sliced very thin and then marinated for a short time in rice vinegar mixed with a little water. Plus, there will be a few Red Giant Mustard plants for a some heat during the chill of winter.
Note: One advantage of growing brassicas in the fall is you avoid the cabbage root fly maggots, which emerge in the spring.
Tomatoes are in full production mode now. This year I tried some heirloom varieties for the first time, including Pink Brandywine, Old German/Mennonite, Purple Cherokee, and Mortgage Lifter. As expected, I found them more problematic than the modern varieties, with much skin cracking, some blossom end rot, and less production overall.
Mortgage Lifter, a name right out of the Great Depression, was the most successful, with deeply ribbed, large pinkish red fruit that held well on the vine. The Mennonite, also very large, was deep yellow, with a star of bright red color at the blossom end, and very soft, sweet flesh. The Brandywine and Purple Cherokee produced a only a small number of tomatoes, many of which got too soft before I realized they should have been picked a bit earlier.
All the other tomatoes I grew were varieties that do well locally: Roma and Granadero sauce tomatoes; two beefsteak varieties, Jo’s Best and Big Beef; two determinates, Early Girl and Siletz; as well Sungold and Sweet Million cherry tomatoes. The modern, standard-size types of course produce large, relatively disease-free crops that ripen well on the vine, have thicker skins that resist damage, and denser flesh that’s not as delicate or sugary as the heirlooms. But they are sweet enough for fresh eating, and work well for home freezing or canning. Reliability is a good trade-off when you intend to preserve your garden crop for the winter. And a few heirlooms, mixed in with the large batches of modern tomatoes being processed, add just the needed touch of old-fashioned sweetness and flavor.