Now that your tomatoes, basils, peppers, pumpkins and squash plants have been relegated to the compost heap its time to spread some seeds on those bare patches in your garden. One of the great treats of living in Texas is winter offers an ideal growing season. Many of the plants that can’t survive our 90-plus summers will thrive during our cool winters and provide us with plenty of fresh and flavorful greens to enliven our winter meals.
How many times has your mother told you, “Eat your greens, they’re good for you”? She was right, of course. The fact is greens are very good for you. They are filled with nutritious vitamins and other trace elements that help your body fight off winter colds and illness.
Now is the perfect time to get some greens going in your garden with a few inexpensive packets of seeds. You will find a ready supply at local nurseries and big box stores.
This is a prime time for planting micro greens, salad greens, mesclun, mache, sprouts, lettuce, English peas, broccoli raab, spinach, Swiss chard, kale and herbs. Now is also a good time to plant cool season root crops such as radishes, carrots, beets, scallions and turnips. I usually sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil, press them down and apply a very gentle mist of water.
Just because you have a packet full of seeds doesn’t mean you need to plant them all at one time. Space the plantings out about every two weeks or so, then start harvesting and thinning out the tender greens and sprouts when they are one to two inches high. Add these seedlings to the evening salad. Thinning will allow more vigorous growth of the remaining plants. Planting over several weeks will extend your harvesting season. You may need to cover the garden with a row cover fabric if a deep freeze is forecast.
Herb and edible flower seeds that can be planted now and harvested all winter through late spring include: salad burnet, chervil, chives, chamomile, coriander/cilantro, cress, dill, fennel, nasturtium, parsley, pot marigold/calendula, and sorrel. All of these herbs prefer the cooler temperatures of spring. Plus the unique flavors of these herbs and greens will add zest and nutrition to salads, soups, sandwiches and snacks.
If you are accustomed to buying your fresh produce from the Downtown Farmers Market cool weather greens picked fresh from your garden will be a pleasant surprise to the winter meal and remind you of treats to come next market season.
Prepare the soil well with lots of compost or aged manure before planting. Keep it evenly moist while plants are young and mulch to conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds.
Try this special salad of mixed greens and fruit in season during cooler weather.
Mixed Greens with Pears, Fennel and Pecans
4 cups various lettuce leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
4 cups various dark greens such as spinach, mache, raab, kale, etc.
1 small fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 large pear, cored, quartered and sliced thin
Parmesan Reggiano, sliced into curls with a vegetable peeler
¼ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
Toss the greens. Scatter the fennel, pear and parmesan over the greens. Sprinkle the pecans and a few fresh leaves of your favorite herbs over the top. Make a dressing of 2 tbs. balsamic vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Drizzle over the salad, toss well and serve.