Fall and Winter Greens, and Tomato Harvests

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.

Tomato Harvest

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.

6 thoughts on “Fall and Winter Greens, and Tomato Harvests

  1. Ruth Taylor

    I have plenty of common purslane in my garden beds, would rather not have so much! I guess it’s really good for you but I haven’t used it much, any suggestions?

    1. Peter Heffelfinger

      Miner’s Lettuce is very delicate, mostly for fresh eating in salad. I haven’t eaten common purslanes myself, but I would try it in a simple soup, like miso, with other added greens such as garlic chives or thinly sliced smooth kale.

  2. taft perry

    Peter – I have been enjoying this blog. I am wondering about your broccoli raab planting. I love rapini and have tried to grow it 4 or 5 times. I have been successful at growing some that had bitter leaves but there were no little buds/florets. And I want both leaves and the buds. I am assuming you are growing from seed and would like to know the variety and where you bought it. Or if you are using starts, what was your source?

    taft perry, anacortes

    1. Peter Heffelfinger

      In past years I think I got starts at the Skagit Valley Food Co-op, but this year I didn’t see any Raab. Luckily I found a seed packet at Christianson’s Nursery last week. I think it is from Shepherd’s Seeds, but will have to check.
      Raab broccoli is very vigorous, but it needs a bit of protection against freezing. Reemay May be enough, but a plastic cover might be needed depending on the site.
      To get buds as well as abundant leaves, you may need to add small amounts of bone meal, green sand and kelp meal for winter nutrition. Go easy on the nitrogen from manure or other sources during the cold months.
      Raab is one of my favorites as well, especially since it keeps producing small buds after each cutting. Like most brassicas, I find they get sweeter after very cold temperatures.

  3. Rosann Wuebbels

    This is info on vole eradication success! Believe me we’ve tried gizmos and plaster of paris with cornmeal and other various experiments. This REALLY works.
    You build a small tunnel out of 2 by 6 ,maybe 2 ft long . That’s 2 sides and a top. You place a rat trap (you need two)baited with apples at each end of the vole hole you found in your garden or orchard. Place your tunnel of love over the hole and traps. Hence trap, hole, trap all lined up, tunnel over it and bingo! We ran our trap line in the morning and have lost count with how many we caught. So satisfying. I promise to be a Buddhist in my next life.
    I have photos but couldn’t figure out how to get them attached.

    1. Peter Heffelfinger

      Sounds like a version of Eliot Coleman’s box setup with double openings and two traps. I found that mouse traps are too small even inside a box, and that rat traps by themselves, without a confining tunnel, are too big. And special vole traps too expensive. Our vole and rat problem has decreased significantly with the removal of the neighbor’s farm animals as well as the patrolling of two young male cats. Glad you found a solution that gives immediate proof of removal, unlike the plaster of paris and corn meal feeding station. Also, regular mowing around the outside perimeter of the garden helps a lot since the voles live in the meadow, usually.

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