Turnips just keep on growing. That’s crimson clover cover crop to the right. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Winter veggies still going strong in the garden

This winter has been so mild that parsley still grows in the garden and my lettuce has resprouted.

By Mary Lowther

This winter has been so mild (so far) that parsley still grows in the garden and my lettuce has resprouted. We’re still munching on leeks, kale, kohlrabi, carrots and turnips that were sown midsummer because the cold spell we had in November didn’t kill off these hardy plants and the slugs are hibernating.

I haven’t fertilized since early October, so these winter harvests feel like freebies. I haven’t weeded since October either, because these plants were well established by then and I had already hoed out any lurking weeds. Now it’s just “put on the rain gear, grab the digging fork, brave the rain and harvest dinner.”

When I think of a vegetable garden I envision tomatoes and cucumbers dangling from trellises, peas climbing poles and corn stalks waving in the breeze in warm summer weather, but when we’re still dining on tasty vegetables in January I have to reconsider my idea of what a vegetable garden can look like.

This has been a particularly good winter for turnips; I’ve been harvesting them since August and they keep growing bigger until there’s more crop now than ever. I was once reluctant to grow turnips or rutabagas because the ones I bought were bitter and I didn’t like them, but a few years ago I figured I’d give rutabagas a try. These yellow roots survived the winter and tasted surprisingly good so I tried turnips and they’re just as tasty, mild, almost sweet and not bitter at all. Of course, everything tastes good when you can trot into the garden, harvest the food and eat it before it even knows it’s dinner.

This crop shows no indication of slowing down so I wonder just how big they’ll get before they start sending up stalks when it warms up. David suggested we try using one for a Jack-o’-lantern, and found a reference on Wikipedia that suggests this is not a new idea. According to legend the first ones were hollowed turnips used to light the way of trick or treaters. Pumpkins became the lantern of choice when they were discovered in the New World because they are easier to work with.

Given how little care they require and how well they over winter, I suspect turnips and rutabagas will be standards in my future gardens, along with Brussels sprouts, leeks and kale. David enjoys the former but leaves me to eat the kale alone as part of my Hielands heritage. He claims that when he sees kale he feels the skirl of bagpipes curdling the blood in his veins as his ancestral memories flood back; of blue faced ruffians in skirts scaling Hadrian’s Wall to do him the dirty and ravish his women folk. We Scots are stereotyped as fey, but it seems to me that the lowlanders are a bit suggestible as well.

But I digress. We need to eat these particular turnips more quickly or the garden might turn into a rain forest version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I’ve been dicing and steaming them with carrots or peas, but they also work well in my potato recipes if I grate them first and squeeze out the extra liquid. Here’s a nice recipe for roasted root vegetables that works very well for turnips:

Ingredients: 2 cups vegetables cut into finger sized pieces

2 T. oil

1 tsp. soy sauce

1 garlic clove, crushed

½ tsp. rosemary

½ tsp. any other herb

½ tsp. salt

Pepper to taste

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the oil and soy sauce into a large bowl and mix. Add the vegetable fingers and mix to coat. Spread in a single layer on a cooking pan and bake for 20 minutes. While they are baking, put the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper into the bowl and mix. Remove vegetables from the oven, put them into the bowl and gently stir to coat them all. Return them to the pan and bake until golden brown, about 15 more minutes. Hold the kale.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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