On year-round harvests

salsa fixings, Aug 2011

We ate our last potato last night.

It was a huge Red Norland, a “spooky” potato (according to the eight-year-old) with finger-length sprouts emerging from it; it was added to a soup of leeks, celery, parsley root and cream, blended smooth and served hot with fresh bread and herbed butter.

That last potato got me thinking about staples and seasonality.

After one hangs one’s garden hat on providing a year’s worth of (name your vegetable), there are logical next steps that a gardener usually takes.  What else is out there, what else can I put away?  Are the items destined to be eaten in the same form as they’re harvested, like the potatoes or apples and winter squash, or do they have to be canned or frozen, dehydrated or picked?

And what about the year-round availability that the grocery store provides?  Can I compete with that, ever?

Can I produce FRESH food year-round?  And if so, is it stuff we’ll actually eat?

Those last two items have been THIS gardener’s holy grail.  As time and our tastes have allowed, I have shifted away from preserving my harvests and have instead moved to Fresh Is Best.  The greenhouses have been key to this, of course, but there are other methods out there, like low tunnels or even  basement/cold-storage of items like celery, chard, and chickories.  These items are dug up, roots and all, and potted and placed in one’s dark and cool storage area.  The leaves and stalks, though blanched from lack of light, are eminently edible.

But I am a slacker at heart, so I leave things in the ground year-round and rely on my greenhouses to provide the bounty.  Still, many things, like that potato, have an off-season, that period of time between the last wrinkled sprouty stored spud and the digging of the first thin-skinned earth-warmed baby spud.  The wait makes you want them more…but the more you work at it, the better you are at shortening that off-season.  I expect my first potato harvest in mid-June, in the greenhouses.

Here’s a list of my year-round, same-form items:

  • Leeks, onions, scallions, shallots; kale, mustards, collards, chard, chickories, lettuce, celery, beets, carrots; button mushrooms; parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, bay, garlic; eggs, chicken, milk and milk products.

Here is a list of almost-year-round goodies:

  • Cabbage, broccoli, parsnips, potatoes, fennel, kohlrabi, celeriac, turnips, rutabaga, daikon radishes, skirret, scorzonera, and

And here’s a partial list of the things that get harvested once, no matter how hard I try:

  • Asparagus, artichoke, cardoon, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, okra, peas, beans, corn, cantaloupe/melons, cucumbers, tomatillos, brussels sprouts and cauliflower; honey, maple syrup; apples, blueberries and strawberries.

So when people ask me why I wish for another greenhouse, I think of my lists, especially this middle one.  Year-round fennel and kohlrabi would seem to be laudable goals, but year-round potatoes?  Score!  Gotta just dig more dirt to figure out how I can do it.

It keeps me busy.  And the grocery store doesn’t get our money!

16 responses to “On year-round harvests

  1. When was this picture taken? You aren’t getting tomatoes now are you?

  2. Dear El,
    We purchased a {glass} greenhouse this spring {I choose glass over plastic because I am a snob} and would like to grow food year round in it like you do. But I think I need a heater. Can you help me? What kind of heater should I be looking for?
    Mavis in Seattle

    • Ah, Mavis. Glass is fine; you shouldn’t need to replace it like I need to replace my plastic every 6 years. But I will gladly say it’s not heat you need, girlfriend, it’s sun, or rather light. And no, I don’t doubt that Seattle is cloudy. But it’s cloudy where I am too–206 days to your 226–and you’re boatloads warmer where you are than my zone 6b. In other words, skip the heater, invest in some agricultural cloth for the coldest winter days, and succession plant like a fool. It’s completely attainable, your growing year-round. Just make sure you select plants that appreciate the cool when it’s cool, hot when it’s hot. And read Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season harvest. Easy!

  3. I am learning so much from your blog. We are finishing our first greenhouse, just putting in doors and a homemade venting system. I’m really worried about the opaque-ish plastic the farm store recommended. Yours seem much more clear. Our issue is really high winds, sometimes up to 60 or 70 or even 80 mph so this plastic is supposed to hold up better, otherwise it’s torn to ribbons in a matter of months, rather than years.

    Anyway, I would love it if you’d post some recipes or recommend a good whole foods cookbook you like? Often I have no idea what to do with the overabundance of squash or leeks or beans or whathaveyou.

    • Hiya Jessica. The book is easy: anything by Deborah Madison will help you; she’s primarily written vegetarian cookbooks over the years with a heavy reliance on the word “vegetable,” but her best all-round book (with meaty recipes) would be Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmer’s Markets. And then anything by Mark Bittman is handy. He has a How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (as well as How to Cook Everything) that is really great; I bought copies for our school’s kitchen, and the latter one is what we go to for our School Snack.

      Greenhouse film. The standard is 6mil, 4 year film; you can get it with a condensation release (basically, it makes the condensation, a constant morning occurrence, run off and not block the light), but a film that’s that thick should withstand anything (wind, snow, hail) if you have it tight enough. My greenhouses have what’s called wiggle wire to hold down the plastic: it’s a c-shaped channel into which this zigzag wire is wiggled after the plastic has been pulled (you do one section at a time). If you google both “6mil greenhouse film” and “greenhouse wiggle wire” you’ll see what I mean. I don’t know if you’ve put up your plastic yet; it could simply be you’ll replace what you have now with this stuff in a few years. My plastic on the original greenhouse is on its 5th year and it has loads of cat clawmarks (Little Edie uses the greenhouse as a bird lookout) and some major holes that I have taped; I am hoping to keep it on for at least one more year, even though it’s “4 year” plastic. (I’m cheap that way!) Anyway, congrats!

  4. I loved your first and last sentences, the first grabber, the last nicely giving a whole other perspective to the meat in between.
    Correction: You are furthest from ‘slacker’ i have ever seen.
    I found ramps today, and morels, a few; spring seems to be here in spite of very cold nights.

  5. We’re utterly spoiled for year-round growing. I need to get potatoes in the ground again — they’re not high on my list of likes, so I don’t. Maybe we don’t, since there seems to be no point in growing what’s not loved (which would explain the year-round kale fest out there). If I dot my is and cross my ts, stuff grows. It’s the climate. I still can tomatoes and enchilada sauce and stuff, though.

  6. Hello! Found you recently and had to come back to investigate. We so often go through life almost blindly, not questioning the value of our actions over time, and the value of change. The garden demands questions. It seems you ask a pivotal question when you say, “”Are the items destined to be eaten in the same form as they’re harvested?” Like roots spreading out, this question offers natural ramifications worth considering. I think it could easily apply to other areas in life. We should stop and ask more often, “Now, what do I want to make of this?” In many cases, I suspect the answer points to fresh, new soil. Thanks.
    PS: It is with much pleasure that I will introduce you to our readers in the next issue of my weekly highlights. 🙂

    • Granny! I *own* a Squeezo!!! I borrowed my neighbor’s the first year we moved here to use on our grapes…and had to get my own 🙂 It’s in its 6th season.

      And thanks for the consideration. Some thoughts aren’t just topsoil, y’know.

  7. Its funny because I had to re-train myself to cook with non-fresh produce (ie things like frozen corn/broccoli) in an age when every recipe emphasized fresh–for an audience assuming you can always buy tomatoes and asparagus at the same time. For me there’s still a place for preserved stuff, mostly because I can’t eat all the food I grow at once! But I can see the balance shifting a bit–I definitely enjoy the extension the hoop gives me of fresh veggies.

    My problem is our area is that the local farmers are so good at what they do, and we have a great year-round market, that it’s really easy to be lazy about, say, potatoes and carrots. Those guys are way better at growing and storing them than I am, and I can get them year-round. But I still keep trying to add things to my list anyway, for the fun of it. Def. makes the grocery/market list shorter.

  8. Pingback: Weekend Highlights – Noteworthy Articles by Fellow Bloggers – May 05, 2012 « Granny's Parlour

  9. I have popped over from granny’s and oh what a find you are. I have a small sustainably managed farm out in the prairies of illinois. My goal is for the farm to FEED the farm (and me) and it is wonderful work. Lovely to meet you, I look forward to reading more! but right at the moment I really need to go out and clean the pigsty and the water troughs for the cows.. I shall be back.. celi

  10. Thanks for this great article! My husband and have been setting up a bunch of square-foot gardens in our backyard and for the first time in my life, I’ve found myself enjoying gardening! It’s really starting making me think about a lot of things, like the way our society has become accustomed to having easy year-round access to any and all produce, with the downside being a extreme drop in quality, taste and nutrition. So even though we’ve only had the gardens in for about 6 weeks, I’ve already been thinking of ways to put up food for winter, but also how to grow food year-round. Your year-round lists are extremely helpful, as were your descriptions of your greenhouse. My husband and I have been talking about setting one up and now I feel more confident about it. Thanks for this very informative blog – I look forward to reading even more of it.

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