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Almost Spring... A winter kitchen garden update

March 17, 2014

Spring is close (right?!). It's been one hell of a winter for much of North America and I'm sure I'm not the only one who is craving warm sun, blue skies, fresh buds and green shoots. Vancouver Island is starting to grow again after what I hope is the last of the snow and new plant shoots are appearing, like the horseradish above.

I walked out into my little kitchen garden today to judge how my over-winter plantings of random vegetables, herbs and greens have fared since last fall. I've thrown a variety of winter plants in the ground in late October/ early November for two years running now, and it's interesting to see what kinds of success and failures come from a garden that needs little to no care.

Success: Kale and Swiss Chard

Many of the kale plants I put in last fall have been eaten by sneaky visiting deer this winter (granted, our garden fence is on its last legs and decorative at best now, so I don't blame them). The kale and chard were frozen by frost, covered by snow and drenched by rain over and over this winter and still fought on.

The plants that survived the weather and wildlife are still thriving and I was able to pick kale and chard leaves all winter. I'm hoping they'll start fluffing up into big leaves with the coming spring warmth so I'm going to stop picking for a while to let them grow.

Failure: Lettuce and Spinach grown on the deck

I had high hopes for growing lettuces in the gutter garden I have bolted to my deck (used to grow strawberries last summer). And the plants did flourish until the end of December, lulling me into a false sense of food security, thinking I was a genius who'd be eating fat lettuces 'til spring.

And then it snowed. And raaaaaaaained. And froze. And snowed again. You get the idea.

By the end of January every plant was a wilted pile of goo. Lesson learned. Interestingly, the lettuce seeds that I planted directly in the garden the winter before last did great, so I am wondering if I had some drainage issues with the gutter garden that water-logged the roots.

Success: Broccoli

Another random experiment this winter was broccoli. The plants went dormant pretty quickly when temperatures dropped in the fall and they spent the winter being nibbled at by passing slugs. But since the beginning of March they have perked back up and are now pushing out new leaves and tiny broccoli heads. Could a spring crop of broccoli be in my future? I hope so.

Success: Herbs

Of everything I've grown in my little Vancouver Island kitchen garden, nothing has thrived like herbs. So much so that they would completely take over the whole place if I let them. With that in mind, I took all the herbs out of my garden and planted them (and more I brought home) in the flower beds along the front of my house in place of decorative plants (hey, they look plenty decorative as they are, and many bush out and flower quite attractively). I am now growing rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, mint, lavender, parsley and chives year-round right beside my front door and can step out and grab a bunch any time my kitchen calls for them.

There is some winter ebb and flow to what's growing or available in the herb bed, with chives wilting away for a few month before shooting back up, and thyme, rosemary and oregano always ready to go, even from under a drift of snow.

After spending some time assessing the over-winter 'harvest' I've received, I'm feeling pleased I tried out a few new vegetables. I learned more about what likes to grow in my little garden during the cold months and what doesn't, and I have a few successes that will be ready to eat now and in the next month.

Now... Cue Spring, I'm ready!


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