Garden Self Reliance

Our Winter Garden

Because we live on a sunny piece of property only 35.57° north, we have access to homegrown food every day of the year.

Bob and I open our bedroom blinds every morning and admire our backyard garden. Because we live on a sunny piece of property only 35.57° north, we have access to homegrown food every day of the year.

Beets, a two-for-one crop, are one of our top five veggies. We love their tender greens, as sweet as spinach, and we pickle the earthy root for eating on green salads or with Cole slaw.

We have never found ourselves with more beets than we could handle. If we have more than enough to pickle, we eat them, steamed beside noodles smothered in a creamy Hungarian sauce. And if we still have beets after that, we make Chocolate Beet Cake.

We planted these Danvers carrots at the end of August and they have sized up nicely just in time to brighten our dark months. They seem sweeter than our summer carrots, have a crisp and tender snap, and are translucent when held up to the sun.

These leeks, started under lights nearly a year ago, have saved many a meal. We reduced our shopping trips after the pandemic swooped in last March, causing us to run short of onions between shopping trips. No need to panic, I tell myself as I unlatch the garden gate, I will find a big, fat leek, and I always do.

Collards, spinach, and kale

As I covered the fallow beds in fallen oak leaves, I realized that 50% of the garden is currently in play with winter crops.

Collards are winter garden royalty. We planted two plots three months apart. The summer pests are gone and the leaf mulch keeps them clean, which makes them the ideal pick-and-cook food.

I started these perennial Purple Italian Artichokes from seed in January, 2020 after after enjoying a pre-pandemic, kitchen-counter seed exchange with Whitney. Bob dug holes in the lawn and we planted them along the front yard fence. We saw their leaves shrivel in the summer heat and are watching their resurgence with high hopes.

I enjoyed many an artichoke during my childhood, unlike others I have queried and discovered have a tepid relationship with the thorny vegetable. Artichokes are a coveted reminder of my Nana’s Sunday table, something I rarely purchase because of their price. How special I felt then — aligned with the jovial adults, my brothers, and my cousins — all of us dipping succulent leaves into drawn butter on our way to the coveted heart.

Our friend Link may have given us this comfrey when we first moved in eleven years ago. Admittedly, we don’t do much with it but we could cut the nutrient-rich leaves and use them for mulch.

This is Comfrey in April

We like comfrey’s bell-shaped summer flowers, the plant is very happy growing at the far end of the pool, and if we ever need to make a poultice, we know where to go.

These are fava beans and this is the first year we will grow them. They don’t mind cold weather so we decided to plant in the fall and harvest in the spring.  They’ll come out before the bugs catch on, and we’ll plant tomatoes and tomatillos in their wake.

We’ve got three totes of garlic, planted mid-September, which we’ll harvest in May and follow with peanuts or edamame.

The kale we planted from seed is catching on slowly, but as the days lengthen they should gain ground and eventually take over after we’ve exhausted the collards.

Spinach, also planted from seed and slow to rise and shine.

I am not a fan of winter and I have proven that I am just fine with the endless summer of tropical living. I am not one of those who yearns for sweater weather or who would miss the seasons.

So, I am glad we don’t live any further north than we do. The dead of winter doesn’t feel as terminal when there are crops in the garden. Add seed catalogs and a sunny window, and it seems that summer will be here in no time.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

8 replies on “Our Winter Garden”

Inspiring, Camille! Lovely words and photos. I’m in that exciting stage with seeds in the mail but not here yet. Wish I has a big sunny spot for a vegetable garden, but I’m going to try tucking a few edibles in with the native plants for pollinators. Cherry tomatoes, rainbow chard, and peppers are all so pretty.

If you can let one of those artichokes go to flower, the bumblebees will love you for it. They smell like honey and the bees will fall asleep face down in them overnight (well, at least in the summer they do). Their fuzzy little butts in the air…it’s the cutest sight. That’s what I’d love to do with flowers like that. I wish I could make a pillow made of the stuff! I kept the heads of the artichokes last year and when they go to seed, clumps of what feel and look like soft hair come out. I’ll probably find some plants cropping up around here next year!

Wow, Steph – what a lovely image (bee butts in the air). I hope we get some of that action over here.

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