The greenhouses in late winter/early spring

Ah!  The March equinox!  Equal day and night happening for us on March 20th, as well as spring’s putative arrival:  after such a winter, I am so happy this day is here.  The White House breaks ground on their own kitchen garden today.  And our humble greenhouses are both winding down and ramping up on this day.  In the old greenhouse, I have been busily sowing lots of seed and transplanting indoor baby seedlings of onion, leek, broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce.  Everything is sprouting, everything looks great.

The new greenhouse is a bit of a puzzle to me.  Somehow, it is not as warm as the old one, and while this is not a problem (per se) it has me scratching my head.  Either way, and just like the leeks, it’s time for many of the existing plants to get eaten.  This also marks the end of my general parsimony:  eating up a harvest is necessary (as my stinginess won’t let anything go to waste) and it’s also just plain delicious fun.  SO I thought I would share with you on what’s moving out of the salad bowl and getting main-course status on our plates.


Escarole: This lettuce-like plant is actually a chickory, so it shares its family’s tang and bite.  I do use it in salads (and will continue to do so) but it hates the heat so it will soon mostly end up being quickly sauteed with garlic or–my favorite–served slightly warm with hot bacon drippings on top of it.  Add some huge croutons and a poached egg and that is dinner.


Sugarloaf chickory: This plant has many uses, and often I use it the way you’d use cabbage.  It continued to grow through the coldest days so it is a definite keeper in my eyes.  I used it in lieu of cabbage leaves for cabbage rolls: they’re more stringy but I like their bite.  This is also great sauteed, with a splash of vinegar at the end.


Chard: Unlike the enormous fans of the summer garden, winter greenhouse chard is small and tends to hug the earth, reserving its energy.  Because this is a biennial, I need to hurry up and eat it before it goes to seed.  One of my favorite recipes is a chickpea/chard stew with lots of cumin and cilantro and garlic.  Chard is also great braised and wrapped up in a turnover with some stinky cheese, or braised and used as a filling for crepes.


Carrots: I will never rely on storage carrots again, I think:  having them grow in the greenhouse was both so much easier for nightly harvests and so much more fresh with nearly no nutrients lost.  This is one crop I will be sad to see go.

img_0834Kale: The red-leaved Russian kale seems to have been a much happier denizen of the greenhouse this winter; its lacinato (dinosaur, or Tuscan) cousins surely didn’t do so well.  It is such a mild plant too thanks to the cold.  Like all that I have listed here, it too is a biennial and the oldest, largest plant is just about to flower.  Think “broccoli” and you’ll see my plans for these blossoms…

img_0840do you see the little spider in her web?

and finally, Sorrel: I have been a happy wanderer with all my plants but when I discovered sorrel at Lucia’s in Minneapolis about 15 years ago I knew I had found a vegetable to call home.  They served it as a lemon-y sauce with some baby potatoes…yum.  Unlike all the above plants listed, this is a perennial.  I moved it down from my Minneapolis garden and have both outdoor and greenhouse plants growing:  it’s a favorite of the chickens, too, so usually the indoor one is the only one I get to use.  It melts to nothing in the pan and the plant melts to nothing in the heat of summer, reappearing in the cool of autumn.

16 responses to “The greenhouses in late winter/early spring

  1. I’ll have to give sorrel try; I need some more leafy vegetables. I’m planting peas for the first time this year. I realized when I was selecting seeds that I have never had fresh peas. I know, unbelievable. I hate canned peas, so I never planted any. I have read and heard a kazillion times that there is little similarity, between fresh and processed, so I’m jumping on the band wagon.

  2. Doesn’t hoophouse #1 butt against one of your outbuildings? If hoophouse #2 is freestanding, that could explain the temperature difference. Just a thought.

    I’ve been all buzzy about the White House garden project for a few days now…. I had a feeling the announcement was going to come soon!

  3. Like many others who garden, I don’t have enough leafy veggies in it because I simply don’t eat it. The traditional mess of “greens” in a pot to me is just disgusting.

    Your recipes, however, sound fabtastic! Could you, would you, if I say please very, very nicely, lay out the how and what’s of those recipes for all of us who want to utilize that colder weather empty garden next year?

    I also grow Sorrel, but have never actually eaten it! It looks nice in the flower beds out front when the summer flowers die back in the cooler weather. It’s a very nice looking plant!

  4. I would also like those recipes, if’n you don’t mind;) They sound great, and I never know what to do with the greens.

  5. Yea! about the Obamas planting their vegetable garden!

    This post brought me to near tears. Your veggies are so beautiful. Oh, those carrots! I can’t wait to have a greenhouse – but for next winter (while still in the city) we’re going the cold frame route. I finished 4 Season Harvest last night and that, along with your wonderful posts have SO inspired me. Thanks El.

  6. If it’s green, and been in a pan with butter and garlic…I’ll eat. Can’t go wrong with warm greens!

  7. I’m getting hungry just looking at all of this!

  8. Actually, lettuce and chicory are in the same family (botanically speaking) — Asteraceae, formerly known as Compositae, the daisy family.

    I’m envious. Our greens didn’t do so well in this horridly dry winter we just had. And, for some reason, regardless of conditions, my cilantro never puts out more than a second adult leaf before stalling permanently.

  9. very cool.

    Do you have an organized schedule for all of your plantings/replantings? I have the hardest time coordinating second crops and fall crops, and worry if I extended my season even (with, say, a greenhouse!) that I’d be terrible at it.

    oh and christyacb, i’m not the biggest greens fan either, if that makes you feel better. I keep trying though! Its also good to have chickens, as your non-greens eating guilt can be appeased by feeding them the beet tops.

  10. Great close up shots!

  11. El, your cooking sounds like a lot like mine!

    If you are not doing so, you may want to give your sorrel some afternoon shade and water well in the summer. That increases the chance that it’ll produce in the summer (although not as nicely as in the spring or the fall)

    I have never grown sugar loaf chicory. Definitively need to try that (but it’s in the plan to grow Belgian Endive this year…)

  12. I’d love some of those recipes too! Your plants look great!

  13. What I find curious is that the exactly 12 hour day for us occurred on Tuesday, the 17th, though the equinox happened on Friday. I thought the equinox was supposed to be the time of equal day-night length. Or is that some kind of average for the earth as a whole, with individual places showing their variations as they are farther north from the equator?

  14. I’ve never tried sorrel, but your description will have me looking for some in the farmers market this year. I love kale and chard – your kale especially seems to have flourished. The equinox had me joyful all day, just thinking of the warmth and light to come. Actually, I read that we see equal day/night slightly before the big day because “they” measure the start of the day when the center of the sun comes above the horizon and the end when the center dips below – whereas we tend to see the start of “day” much earlier, when the sun is just starting to break the horizon. I never thought of that before, but its interesting 🙂

  15. Pamela, you’ll find there’s loads of difference between fresh peas, too. We like shell peas but you have to watch it and harvest them before they toughen. It’s not the end of the world if they are but the taste changes. We like peas here, including one of our cats, believe it or not. And sorrel is very pretty…

    Hiya Liz. Yes, one is off the building and slightly higher. I think the majority of the chill is due to the fact that we got the plastic on in November, so that ground had a chance to get and stay cold. Like I said, it’s not hurting anything, it’s just weird. I saw the White House garden plan: that planting will last for maybe only a month in DC’s heat so I hope they change up to tomatoes and the like…

    Hi Christy: your wish is my command. If you try only one green, get yourself some kale, like a Scotch (vates) or a Winterbor; they’re fairly hardy outside, and they’ll yield you a lot of greens. We love kale in our soups, frankly.

    Ah Mrs. Meyer, and greens are so good for you too!! Have fun with the recipes.

    Marcie that makes perfect sense with all the Italian immigrants upstate. What a mishmash! Looks delightful, frankly…

    Angie, you’re welcome. The cold frames sound like a great plan. Investigate getting some automatic vents for them though if you’re not going to be in Wisco during the week. These vents have a heat-sensitive chemical in the pump, and is adjustable, but they’ll automatically open and close the lids of the coldframes provided they’re on hinges.

    Lindsay, spoken like a true Tennessean!

    Hi Rosemarie, well then my plan is working… 😉

    Ah Zandt you’re right; people won’t necessarily notice the family similarity unless they let their lettuce bolt to seed. I do always find it interesting what is related to what, as it was some clever seed-saver who got all this diversity going. (Can you imagine if they stopped at Iceberg?) So: can you do shade cloth, or plant in the shady side of your yard or anything to help with that heat? Water of course is another issue.

    Oh Sara, if I were organized, I would have an organized schedule for planting things. My schedule usually revolves around me finding space in the garden and sticking things in it, and I am absolutely serious. I do pay attention to how cold or how warm things get and know what certain plants like, but honestly, I just move things around…I hate bare spots: wasted opportunity!! So I suppose that’s my key to success? Keep things constantly growing? I would say though that if you look at a seed packet and it says “60 days” it means 60 days plus 2 weeks before the seedling even gets up and out of the ground. Working backward for fall peas, then, that means I need to plant them in mid-August. Etc. Hope that helps.

    Thanks, littlem. The macro and I usually don’t play well together…must be my aging eyes.

    Thanks, Sylvie: I have thought the same of your cooking! In the summer I can usually squeeze a crop out of the sorrel, as long as I don’t let it seed. I have failed miserably with witloof but I hope it was just bad seed and not a bad gardener.

    Thanks Shahar! Hope you find something to try with the recipes…

    Yeah Dennis I think they just do it by timezone and timezone spans pole to pole so that would mean there is some real variability in the equi-nox (equal night). And then they pick a time of a certain day by which they know all parts of the planet will have hit equinox. At least that is my understanding.

    There is something to the longer twilight at both ends of the day MC that I find kind of fascinating. Like this morning when I was picking salad for the 5-year-old’s lunch in my bathrobe in the dark: in summer the dawn would have been brighter, relatively speaking to when the sun would come up. As it was, I needed a flashlight! So yes, greens = good stuff, right?

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