Brighten up a gray day (at least that's how it is here in Alabama) with the first garden update of 2013 from Farmer Mary Beth. -Phillip
In our Cooking Light garden this January day, it's a balmy, drippy 68 degrees. What? Yes. You read that correctly. And just a few days ago it was 28 degrees. Both the plants and I are confused. Despite the cauliflower and Brussels sprouts understandably not showing their pretty heads, we have lots of gorgeous leafy greens. The mustard greens are fully flourishing now. We have both Southern Giant Curled (right), with frilly, neon green leaves, and Japanese Giant Red. I highly recommend these as tangy additions to your plate and as statuesque, stately plants dotted within your flower beds. The ornamental value is just eye-popping as their addition in this Honey-Wine Glazed Chicken Thighs with Mustard Greens recipe.
We are also continually harvesting kale and our patch of Purple Dragon and Paris Market carrots. David and I have vowed to always have a patch of carrots from which to pluck. We converted my whole family into the fresh candy-carrot addiction over the holidays. I'm often asked what garden vegetable tastes the most different from supermarket produce. Fresh carrots! Wait...tomatoes...no, peas...and don't forget lettuces! Hey, just grow them all. Trust us.
A new experience for me has been growing out varieties of radicchio. These require a long growing season (100+ days!) and special timing for cool temps to color up the leaves and tame the bitterness. This Castelfranco variety (left) is also known as "The Edible Flower," as you can see in it's spiraling head of red-splotched leaves. The Treviso variety is ready to harvest, though the oblong heads are not as tight as we'd prefer (remember our 70-degree week?). It began last fall as neon green, floppy, toothed leaves that were too bitter to admit trying. (I might have.) Now the deep burgandy heads would be great grilled with olive oil and garlic.
Off with their heads and over to the photo studio! A benefit to a mild January is harvesting broccoli. Now we're seeing the side shoots emerge. The bonus of growing your own broccoli? You can eat the ENTIRE plant. The flower is what you are most familiar with eating, but the stem, leaves and subsequent side shoots triple the rewards of your efforts.
With every fairy tale, there's always an evil villain. Ours is the dreaded vole with a very refined palette. You saw him eat Chioggia beets, watermelon radishes and our prized carrots last spring. He decimated our first two plantings of cauliflower and broccoli. Now he's taken to "undermining" our radicchio and Swiss chard. Which is interesting, as chard is in the beet root family and radicchio is in the chicory family. We've made a haven for him and have no barn cat, so he's still getting the best of us. However, Millie the new Maple Valley puppy, is hot on his trail. Her solution of furiously digging holes in hot pursuit might be worse than the vole, himself, though.
Next up? Our garden has a neat selection of cabbages forming: a quilted, dimpled Perfection Drumhead savoy and a cone-shaped Cour di Bue that conjure memories of Saturday Night Live. And while we wait on those to fill out, we are poring over seed catalogs to plot and plan for a new spring crop. Any favorites to recommend?