Garden 2021 Review: Cold-Weather Vegetables

As with the flowers, this past year I grew a number of vegetables. Unlike with the flowers, I had grown several of these in the past and had been successful with them. Still, there were quite a few new varieties in the mix.

First up, brassicas. My first year growing veggies I grow almost exclusively brassicas, as we eat a lot of brassicas. I do NOT recommend that new gardeners try this. Back then, I didn’t know what cabbage worms were, nor did I realize that earwigs also attack brassicas. Now I do, but I have still not been successful and keeping any of them alive. ­čśŽ This third year will hopefully be the winner–I have several small beds with clear plastic covers which will hopefully keep the bugs off.

Brassicas:
Bok Choy, Purple Lady--This is a cute little purple bok choy. Unfortunately, as with most of my brassicas, they were demolished by cabbage worms.
Broccoli, RUDOLPH (sprouting, December)–I started this one late in the year (September, I think), and by the time the first frost hit it was still too small. I may try it again next year.
Cabbage, Kalibos–Cute medium-sized purple cabbage; I grew it last year as well. Unfortunately, eaten by cabbage worms. May try again this year.
Cabbage, Napa One Kilo Slow Bolt–This is the first year growing this cabbage. I’ve always considered this kind of cabbage a Napa cabbage, but apparently it’s better known as a Chinese cabbage. This cabbage grows exceedingly fast–it was full size in two months. Unfortunately, it was decimated overnight by earwigs.
Cabbage, Nero di Toscana (Dinosaur Kale)–I’d seen this kale lauded by several youtube gardeners, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was the strongest growing of my kales, but even it succumbed to cabbage worms.
Cabbage, Violaceo di Verona–This was my first year growing this was well. It was one of my strongest cabbages, and the outer leaves were a lovely plum color which faded to green in the center. Even if you don’t successfully harvest a cabbage out of it, it’s still a great ornamental. Will definitely grow again this year.
Kale, Russian Red–This kale was pretty small, even after a few months. I hear it’s tasty but it never really thrived, so I never ended up trying it.
Radish, Miyashige White Daikon–This was such a tasty radish! Very cool and crisp, not spicy at all. I’ve definitely be growing this again next year.  
Rutabaga, American Purple Top–I had a few of these survive the cabbage worms, and cooked them up like I would potatoes or any other root veggie. The taste is a big different–a bit brassica-y and a bit fruity compared to potatoes. I’ll probably grow a few again this year, but I’m not obsessed with them.  

Next, legumes. I love snacking on sugar snap peas during the spring and summer, but I’ve found them difficult to grow for some reason. Again, I’m hoping the third year will do the trick. Also, I’ve finally tried fava banes, and I love them!

Fava, Aquadulce— I didn’t care much for fava beans (broad beans) until I started watching British gardeners. who absolutely love them. I was able to sneak in a small crop
Snap Pea, Royal Snap II (purple)–I grabbed a huge bag of these fro Johnny’s because I trust Johnny’s to have good crops and I thought it would be cool to grow a purple bean. As it turned out, the plants didn’t grow very high or produce very well, and the favor was just eh.
Snap Pea, Magnolia Blossom Tendril–I grew these my first year and was not very impressed–small plants, few flowers, blah taste. This past year, however, they really thrived in the top tiers of my greenstalk. They had a ton of really delicate pink flowers and I even enjoyed the peas! I will be growing this again next year.

One of the big motivations for growing a garden is to have good quality lettuces on hand, I tried maybe 10 (?) varieties of lettuce this year, but with everything else I was growing, it was hard to keep on top of them and they often died. Here are the ones I remember harvesting and eating.

Lettuce, Little Gem–Very cute, small romaine. Not enough for a salad.
Lettuce, Parris Island Cos (Romaine)–Soft romaine lettuce, did not grow that large. Tasty.
Lettuce, Salanova┬« Green Sweet Crisp–I love the Salanova series, but I was not a fan of this one. Too thin and pointy.
Lettuce, Salanova Red Butter–Soft, medium-sized head of lettuce. Tasty.

I also love beets and Swiss Chard, so I tried several of these as well. I had grown all of them except for Bolthardy Beets.

Beet, Bolthardy–Highly recommended by one of my favorite Youtubers, Charles Dowding. I picked this up at the end of the season and I don’t recall having much success with it.
Beet, Bull’s Blood–This variety is mostly intended for microgreens as the foliage is dark red. I grew it to full-sized; it was okay.
Beet, Cylindra–I had the most luck with this best. Full-grown, about half of it stuck out from the soil and half was buried. The oblong shape made it easier to peel, which is a benefit.
Swiss Chard, Ruby Red/Fordhook Giant Mix–I had a lot of luck with Swiss Chard as well, –it survived the heat pretty well as long as I ket it watered. I had one plant grow to 3′ tall–just one tall, wrist-thick stem with swiss chard leaves sprouting out of the top. I have no idea it could grow that big! Even so the leaves tasted fine.

Asparagus and alliums:

Asparagus, Purple Passion–Planted a few two-year-old crowns, have not tried any yet.
Asparagus, Jersey Knight–Planted a few two-year-old crowns, harvested a few skinny ones but let most grow. Both sets of asparagus seem to be thriving.
Chives, Common–Slow grower. Once I pulled it up to make way for other plants I found that it had spent most of its energy growing a massive root system. Will probably plant again this year and keep as a perennial.
Leek, King Richard–Planted a ton of these this year as I use a lot of leeks in my cooking. Germination was so-so; harvested maybe 30 skinny leeks from a good 100 or so seeds. Will try again next year.

And finally, carrots! Another garden snack. Unfortunately this year, my carrot harvest was abysmal. I’m prepared for this year with a good 7000 seeds as the seeds are pretty cheap and it’s so hard to get them to germinate. I’ve also added some celery for good measure.

Carrot, Kyoto Red–Was successful with a few of these. The red carrots are not as sweet as the orange or yellow ones, I’ve found.
Carrot, Sugarsnax 54–One of my most successful carrots. They are very long and very sweet. I’ll be growing a bunch of these this year.
Carrot, Uzbek Golden–I’ve grown these two years in a row now, with moderate success both times. The ones I’ve harvested have been sweet.
Celery, Chinese White Cutting–No luck germinating or growing this variety.
Celery, Chinese Pink Cutting–They variety grew well but I planted it too late in the season to get a good harvest out of it. I’ll be growing it again this year. Should be easier to grow than the usual full-sized European celery.

Leeks are planted!

The leeks are planted! As are the onions. I just barely made it in time–waiting 2.5 weeks out of the 3 weeks that Dixondale recommends as the limit. The starts did look pretty dry, but they weren’t moldy. I gave them a good watering and some fertilizer, so here’s hoping they’ll settle in. We have relatively warm weather for the next 2.5 days before it heads back into freezing again, so hopefully that’s enough time for them to get acclimated. Item #1 marked off of my Garden 2021 to-do list, huzzah!

They’re here! (and way too early): Onions and Leeks

So my first live plants arrived a few days ago! Dixondale’s leeks and onion starts have arrived. I knew they’d ship in March but the posted ETA was 3/15 and I assumed they’d arrive a few days after that. They did not. They arrived 3/11/21. I was caught unprepared.

This was not necessary Dixondale’s fault. I had not read the website thoroughly to begin with and originally had them scheduled to arrive back at the end of January. Dixondale, however, being the professionals that they are, checked my zip code and decided that I really wanted the leeks to be shipped mid-March. Once I finally found the email that told me this (several weeks after the fact-my inbox has been getting really strict in deciding which emails are junk and which ones are not), I relaxed. At least, I did until my knee surgery got more complicated than expected and I found out I’ll be on crutches for at least 6 weeks, not 2 weeks as originally planned. On top of that, they did actually arrive at least a week before I expected. While the snow has all melted, I haven’t gone outside to even look at my garden. Nothing in my garden is prepped yet.

When the leeks and onions arrived, I wasn’t even really mobile enough to get the materials to unpack and store them properly in my back hall (which in the winter works well as cold storage). Luckily, a gardening friend was stopping by that day anyway and helped me unpack and store them. The “plan” is for her to come over again tomorrow to attempt to get out into the garden tomorrow and plant some of them, at least. Dixondale’s website states that, since leeks and onions are part of the lily family, they can store up to three weeks in a cool, dry area, and not to been worried if the tops and bottoms turn brown b/c they will revive once planted in the soil. To be fair, given our current weather and the temperature of our soil, this week really would have been an ideal time to plant the starts, had I not been injured.

Luckily, I did do a pretty good job tidying up last fall, so the garden is not a mess. And I have a large tub which was going to hold sweet potatoes but for now can hold most, if not all, of my leeks starts. I think I’ll try to plant the onions in the beds that already are half-filled with garlic; those beds are already prepped, and I might as well keep the alliums together. And I’ll likely have extras to give to my friend should she want them. No two-person household really needs that many leeks or garlic.

I ordered one bunch of Lancelot Leeks (the only variety they carry) and a mixed bunch of long-day onions, which ended up being comprised of Walla Walla sweet yellow onions; Ringmaster white onions; and Redwing red onions. (I’ve only ever tried the Walla Walla onions, but onions are onions, I guess.) Each bunch has 50-60 starts in it. I’m mostly excited to grow the leeks. Over the last few years I’ve picked up a couple of staple recipes that use leeks, and they are a pain to get from the store as they are not always in stock and are often expensive. Luckily they do store quite well in the fridge, even already chopped and cleaned.

Here are my favorite recipes for which I hope to use my own home-grown leeks:

Potato Leek Soup — I substitute cauliflower for the potatoes–it has a better glycemic index, and I think it tastes better with cauliflower anyway.

Chicken and Leek Pie (William Sonoma) — This recipe tastes amazing. I make it exactly the way the recipe calls for (which is almost unheard of in my kitchen). It really is that good. The way I make it is essentially as chicken pot pie, with bottom crust but no top crust. It freezes well, too.

Triple Mushroom and Leek Soup –A great soup for a cold day. I omit the cream in this soup (as I do with most soups, as I’m lactose intolerant). I think it tastes amazing either way. For this soup, I recommend a health dose of shiitake mushrooms, with a few white mushrooms and the rest crimini mushrooms (or whatever version of portobello that looks good at the store that day). I’ve also made it using chantarelle mushrooms once; it was divine.

I’ve also been told that the leek greens are also good in veggie and chicken stock, though I usually just toss or compost them instead.

Leeks are amazing. They are one of the few plants I’m growing this year that I’m really counting on to succeed. The rest (tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, et al) are honestly just a bonus.

Ordering Live Plants, part 1–Fruits and Veg

Or, some plants are better not grown from seed.

In planning for this year’s garden, I ended up taking a few shortcuts. While growing veggies and flowers from seed is easily the cheapest way, some veggies and flowers take a very long time to mature and produce food. And I’m not the most patient person.

Veggies:

Asparagus

I had high hopes for having fresh asparagus this year until I found that it takes a good 3-5 years before you can harvest any asparagus that you’ve grown from seed. In lieu of this, many seed companies sell 2-3 year old asparagus “crowns” which is the root of an asparagus plant. I’ve ordered a set of 10 crowns of Jersey Knight Giant asparagus from Gurney’s (many other seed companies were already sold out). Jersey Knight seems to be the favored variety.

Jersey Knight Giant asparagus

Leeks and Onions

Leeks are another crop I had high hopes for. It can be grown from seed–I actually have three packets of different varieties in my seed collection already. However, my experience with growing both leeks and onions seeds last year was really frustrating–all I got was a series of chives, or, at best, green onions. So when I heard that you could order leek and onion “starts”, I jumped on it. (Onion starts are different from onions sets, which are essentially bags of mini onion bulbs which more often than not will bolt early–onions are biennials and the process of being stalled at the small bulb stage makes them think they are on year two and should start putting out flowers instead of growing a bigger bulb.) Several companies, such as Johnny’s Seeds, sell onion and leek starts, but one company specializes specifically in onion and leek sets: Dixondale Farms. I ordered a bunch of leeks (30 or so in each bunch) and a bunch of mixed onions–yellow, red, and white from Dixondale. These will be the first of my live plants to arrive as they are supposed to be shipped out mid-March. I think I’ll put them in the beds next to the garlic, though at this point I’m not sure if I’ll even be able to get into the garden to prep the beds and plant them. Erik may end up doing more gardening that he had planned on this spring.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are another crop that could theoretically be grown from seed but no one does. Instead, companies sell “slips” (sweet potato starts), or you could make your own from old sweet potatoes. Last year I received three different types of sweet potato slips from Baker Creek–Pumpkin Yam, Jersey Yellow, and Molokai purple. Of the three, the Pumpkin Yam grew best and tasted amazing roasted. The Jersey yellow did not grow that big, and also didn’t cure well. The Molokai purple were also very skinny–they cured well, but as they are so thin I haven’t bothered to use them in cooking yet.

As I’m not sure if Baker Creek will even offer sweet potatoes slips this year, I went ahead and ordered a set of Murasaki Purple sweet potatoes from Gurney and a set of 25 slips of Mahon Yams from Johnny’s Seeds. I think I’ll plant them in a large container again this year. One set of slips is set to arrive in late April, and the other set is scheduled to arrive late May. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll do with the April set, yet as sweet potatoes are finicky and only like hot weather and April is not hot in Northern IL.

Mahon Yams

Apple Trees

My first purchase when we moved into the new house were some apple trees. Unfortunately, they were sold out last summer, and even when I went to pre-order trees this winter, many were already sold out! My preference is Fuji apple, but all the companies I could find were out of stock. Instead, I ended up with a HoneyCrisp and a Haralson, both of which cross-pollinate well with Fujis (and each other), from Gilby’s Orchard, a tree company based in MN. These apples are all dwarf varieties, as I live in the middle of the city and full-sized trees would be too large (plus, a pain to manage). I’m not entirely sure where I’ll put them yet, but there is plenty of room as all of the house’s previous trees have been removed due to illness and old age.