Good as gold in the cold

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cun­dall

IN­EVER cease to be as­ton­ished by the range of food plants that love to grow through the cold­est parts of the year. Not only do they thrive dur­ing Tas­ma­nia’s win­ter – which is rel­a­tively mild com­pared with parts of Asia, Europe and North Amer­ica – but they also hap­pen to be among the most nu­tri­tious of all the ed­i­ble plants.

Take those com­mon old broad bean plants, for ex­am­ple. They ac­tu­ally love cold soil – pro­vided it is well drained – and they re­main far health­ier and more pest and dis­ease re­sis­tant dur­ing our chill­ier months than if they were try­ing to grow through sum­mer.

And, of course, it is the bean seeds we eat. When they are quite small and a lit­tle im­ma­ture, they are un­be­liev­ably sweet and de­li­cious. This is how most young chil­dren pre­fer to munch them, straight from those fat, silky, fur- lined pods.

Broad bean seeds can be di­rectly sown now a handspan apart in rows a me­tre apart.

An­other great food plant that does best dur­ing win­ter is English spinach. In our frost- pocket of a gar­den I’ve seen half- grown seedling spinach plants frozen solid and crusted white fol­low­ing a freez­ing night. They still thaw out and bounce back to con­tinue grow­ing once the sun rises.

Spinach is best sown di­rectly where the plants are to grow, prefer­ably where sum­mer beans or peas have just fi nished.

Among the root crops, radishes are ready to eat within a month of the seeds ger­mi­nat­ing. Win­ter let­tuces also do well in the colder months – best of all are those small­ish, open-hearted and of­ten brightly coloured red or bright green va­ri­eties. The deep bur­gundy- coloured “oak­leaf” let­tuces can be con­stantly leaf- picked for week af­ter week right through the cold­est weather. They are great value be­cause they look so gor­geous and taste mar­vel­lous in a win­ter salad.

Other highly nu­tri­tious veg­eta­bles that are win­ter- lovers need to be de­lib­er­ately planted or sown in Jan­uary or early Fe­bru­ary. This en­sures they are big enough in late au­tumn to con­tinue ma­tur­ing through win­ter and into early spring.

I’ve been grow­ing two dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of swede, New Zealand But­ter and Amer­i­can Pur­ple Top, over the last few months. The plants were kept well- wa­tered and oc­ca­sion­ally fed with heav­ily di­luted sea­weed con­cen­trate and fi sh emul­sion. Al­ready they are the size of co­conuts but won­der­fully ten­der and still grow­ing.

We’ve al­ready been feast­ing off our but­ter swedes – half- steamed with a lit­tle wa­ter and served mashed with but­ter, pep­per and salt. I knock them off by the bowl­ful they are so un­be­liev­ably de­li­cious. And I’m sav­ing the big­gest and fat­test for seed by leav­ing it in the ground so it will fl ower next spring and sum­mer.

How­ever, all swedes need a good, strong frost­ing, which is why most will be left in the ground for reg­u­lar har­vest­ing over the next three months. These pe­ri­ods of in­tense cold cause cer­tain car­bo­hy­drates to con­vert to healthy sug­ars. When this hap­pens, fl avour be­comes con­cen­trated and the eat­ing is truly mag­nifi cent. It’s the same with our parsnip crop. The seeds were sown in early Fe­bru­ary into soil which had been en­riched six months ear­lier to grow a nice crop of cab­bages.

Parsnips which have been well frosted taste bril­liant, which is why I’m re­sist­ing the temp­ta­tion to lift some of the big­ger ones. We’ll start get­ting stuck into them around the mid­dle of June and there is enough for reg­u­lar pulling to last us well into spring.

And the re­ally great lover of our cold win­ter soil is gar­lic. We can plant the cloves now – just shove them into the soil, pointed end up and just be­low the sur­face. This is where we in Tas­ma­nia can gloat with pride about our proper win­ters.

With­out doubt, they al­low us to har­vest big­ger yields of fan­tas­tic, highly aro­matic gar­lic bet­ter than any­where else in Aus­tralia. Af­ter all, good gar­lic needs to pass through a six to eight week pe­riod when soil tem­per­a­tures drop be­low 7C in or­der to pro­duce big, weighty clus­ters for har­vest­ing in De­cem­ber.

I’ll never stop rav­ing about kale. This amaz­ing veg­etable is noth­ing more than a prim­i­tive cab­bage, which is al­most cer­tainly why those dark- green leaves are crammed with es­sen­tial min­er­als and vi­ta­mins. And when lots of sav­age frosts freeze those leaves, any bit­ter­ness is re­moved and they be­come de­li­ciously sweet, raw or cooked.

Keep in mind that all these win­ter- grown veg­eta­bles hap­pen to be lime- lovers, so start sprin­kling the stuff around. And if you have any wood ashes to dis­pose of, chuck these around also to sup­ple­ment the lime.

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