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Mary Lowther column: Getting the most from your garden in the winter

A good cold frame can greatly extend your growing season in both directions
Kale Colcannon is a great winter dish. (Mary Lowther photo)

By Mary Lowther

Next year I will mark my beds with taller stakes. I meant to last year, but something else came up and you know how that goes. The only thing worse than having someone reminding you they told you so is remembering you told yourself.

I really, really wish I had marked the beds before snow blanketed my garden. I’m fairly sure the bed with the cold frame is at the end of the row of Brussels sprouts because they make higher mounds than the paths, but where does that put the kale? Next year there will be labeled stakes at the end of each bed so I don’t accidentally dance on them in my snow boots.

Thankfully the cold frame, having the largest hump, provides some kind of landmark. Once I scraped off the frozen snow I found lettuce and a lonely cauliflower that I should have picked days ago, lifted off the cover and saw that they were still good. They hadn’t grown much over three frozen weeks and a few leaves were frostbitten, but mostly they were doing fine. A good cold frame can greatly extend your growing season in both directions.

On sunny days I check the temperature, and if it feels too hot I open the lid till nightfall. I have a blanket to drape over it on cold nights to remove in the morning, and will install a thermometer to check the temperature for future reference. How can I be this organized and still not have markers in place? I would blame it on David, but he even cut me the stakes to get it done. Perfection requires more time than I currently have available.

Besides, I did get the cold frame in place, a comparatively small amount of work that yields worthwhile dividends; the scarcity and high cost of greens this time of year more than justify the effort, especially if one wants more variety than kale and Brussels sprouts.

To keep the harvest going, and to keep from going stir crazy with no garden to hang out in, I am sowing more lettuce and greens in flats under lights inside. When they’ve outgrown the first pots I’ll transfer them to larger ones and, when they’ve grown a few inches more, I’ll transplant them into the cold frame to replace those I harvest.

A neighbour gardening friend covered her “Winter Density” buttercrunch lettuce with a spun cloth cover like Reemay, hoping to deter deer from eating every last leaf. She was delighted to discover that her lettuce survived winter’s frost under the canopy. The deer left it untouched, too.

But I digress. I eventually found the kale, marked it with a stake and made the following delicious recipe from Sharon Hanna’s The Book of Kale.

Kale Colcannon

2 large Russett potatoes

2 cups chopped kale leaves

2 T. butter, divided

2 T. milk

2 T. cream

4 green onions, chopped

½ tsp. salt

black pepper to taste

1 T. finely chopped parsley

Directions: Boil potatoes until tender, drain and set aside. Cook the kale in a little water and half the butter until kale is tender – about 8 minutes. Add the milk, cream, green onions, salt and pepper. Mash the potatoes and add the kale mixture. Beat well until light and fluffy. Sprinkle a little more butter and parsley on each serving. My mom made colcannon sometimes, and this recipe is almost as good.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.