Posts Tagged ‘winter gardening’

After more than an inch of ice and at least half a foot of snow precipitated on us and then lingered for four days in late January and early February, I had my doubts about whether my veggie tunnels would still have viable veggies in them.  Temperatures, after all, have been running about ten degrees below normal for several weeks, and adding ice and snow on top of that did not bode well for plants that like sunshine.  It took some time to brush off the snow and break off the ice, but I’m delighted to report that almost everything survived.  Given that it was still quite cold when I took photographs, I didn’t want to take the tunnels all the way off, so “after” photographs are through the tunnels.

On November 29:

January 31:

Are those really veggie tunnels under all of that snow and ice?

Yes, and those are cold frames in the distance.

February 1:  time to take off the snow

They’re looking pretty sad.  Did anything survive?

Yes!  the veggies live!

I also dug several radishes and some carrots from the cold frames yesterday, so those too continue to thrive.

We’ve already got at least four inches more snow today (February 8), and radar shows a heavy band of snow moving in within a few hours and then more overnight, for a total of 8-12 inches.  I’ll sleep easy through this storm, though, knowing that my winter garden is surviving, snug under its tunnels of veggie love.

If you’re in the path of this latest storm (or any other) make sure you tuck in your veggies before you tuck in yourself.

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Imagine my surprise Monday evening when I caught a spot of purple in my front lawn.  Yes, my crocuses are starting to bloom–a spot of flowers in January that I did not expect at least until late February.  Tonight I remembered the crocuses as I watched weather forecasts.  Thank goodness my husband had already thought to cover them.  I hope in a few days I’ll be able to report that they weathered the storm.

Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2010.

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Despite a week of frigid temperatures, my cold frames kept growing vegetables.  There is nothing like the neon glow of bright vegetables in the depths of winter.  This radish bouquet could brighten any winter heart.Who needs flowers’ color when you have radishes?  Oh, yes, flowers smell good too, don’t they?

For more on how my cabbages and related vegetables survived the cold weather, see here.  The post contains links to other winter gardening posts.

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Earlier I wrote about various ways to sustain winter gardening, including grow tunnels.   The recent weather, with temperatures down close to zero overnight and never getting out of the 20s (F) during the day really challenged all of my winter protection measures.  I’m pleased to report few casualties, though, and most of those things were warm-season herbs I had never expected to survive.  Best of all, everything under the grow tunnels did just fine.  I anticipate having cabbage, broccoli, and so forth long before I could have without the tunnels!

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Our winter garden has had a really challenging week, and it’s only getting worse.  I’ve taken all of the basic precautions, but when temperatures drop well below freezing and stay there for days, I know I’m going to lose some things.  The first thing I did was cut a whole bunch of kale and pull the most vulnerable leeks and made a Tuscan sausage, leek, and kale soup.  I also dug some baby turnips that were on the outer edge of the cold frame.  I’ll roast those later this week.  Where ice and snow have accumulated, I’ve left it on my cold frames and plastic coverings; the snow will be a better insulator than the glass and plastic alone.  Tomorrow I’ll pile pine straw and leaves around everything that I can, including my vegetable tunnels.  The good news is that, although some of what I’m growing will freeze, most of it will grow back, given a few weeks.  I’ll just have to be patient!

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It’s really rare here to make it to Thanksgiving day without a half dozen hard freezes, but this year we’d only had a couple of frosts up to November 26.  Hence, when I saw the outdoor temperature plummeting to 36 degrees Fahrenheit before 6:00 p.m., I was resigned to the inevitable.  Thankful for our turkey feast and donning an LED headlamp, I headed outside to find the two last Japanese eggplants that I had hoped would get a little bigger.  I found them by lifting the branches on the plants, feeling for the extra weight, since the headlamp provided little help on the dark purple-ebony skin of the veggies.  I added these last eggplants to a basket of last red peter peppers I’d picked earlier and then set about my primary task in preparing for the freeze.

I have three surprise summer squash plants with baby squash on them.  I could not resist trying to save them.  I covered them with an old dropcloth and a trash bag.  We have at least a dozen volunteer cilantro plants.  Over them I raked leaves.  Next came the big garden, where I checked that plastic I had laid out a few nights ago was still in place and adjusted its fit.  I made sure that my veggie tunnels were in place too.  Finally, I put the glass tops back on my homemade cold frames.  My plants were put to bed for a cold night.

I dreamed that it got down to 21 degrees F.  I also dreamed that I had not protected my herbs.  The first, thank goodness, was just a dream, because I really had forgotten to cover the herbs next to the house.  No problem; the proximity protected most of them this one night, despite the 26 degree F temperature.  And my protective measures took care of the rest.  Today I pulled half a dozen radishes from my cold frame.  I present these blessings of winter together with the blessings of summer.  (Yes, those long hot pink things are radishes, not carrots!)

Do you keep your gardening growing in the winter?  I’d love to hear about it!  Do you have questions about winter gardening?  I’ll try to answer them.  It gets down below zero degrees Fahrenheit here, but we still keep things growing, all without the addition of heat.  It’s a truly sustainable form of winter gardening that will work for a big swath of the world.

Copyright 2009 Ozarkhomesteader.  Please contact me about permission to use photographs.  Short excerpts of text with a full link to this site are welcome.

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Homemade gravy is one of those joys of life.  True, the turkey, dressing (stuffing with cornbread made in a pan, for the Yankee readers), vegetables, and pies bring a wonderful scent and flavor of home and family, but the gravy ties everything together.  Okay, I don’t use gravy on pie, but a little gravy may hit everything else on my plate for a holiday feast! As good as gravy is to eat, some folks have a hard time making it.  I’m going to give a recipe today for basic gravy that you can start with broth from the turkey neck bone and then expand with pan drippings.

When you prep your bird for brining, remove the turkey neck (it’ll be long, skinny and bony) and the heart, liver, lungs, etc.  If you wonder whether or not to brine, read here.  I have two cats that love turkey innards, and since they deserve a happy holiday too, I cook the innards separately for them.  I may address giblet gravy in a future post nonetheless. To make starter broth, boil the turkey neck, broken into a couple of pieces with a stalk of celery (cut into chunks), about half an onion, and a carrot, with enough water to cover.  I’ll also add fresh herbs from the garden, including a 6-inch piece of rosemary and a few sage leaves.  You could add a teaspoon or so each of dried sage and rosemary if you are not growing them fresh in your garden. Rosemary and sage are perennials where I live, if you give them a little help.  I cover them for a few months when it gets really cold, but just south of here I know of people who leave them exposed all winter and never lose them. Simmer the turkey neck and veggies and herbs for about an hour.  You’ll notice that this is a light broth, with very little fat.  You want it that way now, since you’ll be adding pan drippings later.  After that hour (or so), strain off the broth; that’s the base of your gravy.  Toss the veggies and herbs in your compost–they’ve done their job–or if you are really frugal you could save them for soup later.  Reserve the neck.  After the neck cools, you can pick off the meat.  It is full of good turkey flavor, making it perfect for turkey soup.  The remaining broth is a wonderful, protein-rich stock.  If you were to refrigerate now (which you could!), it would separate into a tiny line of fat on top with a jelly-like, fat-free aspic on the bottom.  The gelatin is protein.

Now the boiler where you were making the broth is empty but may still have some good stuff stuck inside, so let’s use it for phase two.  Begin by putting about 2 tablespoons of flour in the bottom, and then whisk in just enough broth to wet all of the flour.  Now add a little more broth until you have a smooth, thin paste.  Keep adding broth until it is all incorporated.  Now simmer the gravy base for at least 15 minutes, until the gravy base stops tasting like wallpaper paste.  No, it won’t taste good yet–we’ve added absolutely no salt yet–but it should be starting to look and smell like gravy.  Now turn off the heat and walk away.  If you’ve done this step well before when you’ll be serving the bird, refrigerate your gravy base.

When the turkey comes out of the oven (thirty to forty-five minutes before you want to serve it, since you need to let it rest to retain its juiciness), pour off as many pan juices as you can easily reach.  You can put the drippings in the freezer to speed its solidifying if you want to skim off the fat.  That said, it’s a holiday; just eat it!  Now start adding your pan drippings to the gravy base you made earlier, stirring as you add.  If you used salt in a brine or in other bird preparation, your pan drippings will give up some of that salt to your gravy.  Simmer the gravy to incorporate the pan drippings.  As you get the bird out of the pan, use a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or white wine to de-glaze your pan and get the fons (those wonderful brown bits!).  Incorporate the de-glazing mix in the gravy.  Taste the gravy.  How is it?  Does it need a little salt or pepper?  That’s easy!  Does it need something else?  See below for easy fixes to common problems.

Not enough gravy for your big family? If you are thinking of what you’ll need for days to come, don’t worry.  Just use your turkey carcass to make more broth after you disassemble the turkey.  It’ll have that great pan flavor with no additions.  Just follow the steps for above for making the broth and adding the flour.  If you need more gravy now, though, you can use a commercial chicken broth mixed with flour (see above) and simmered with rosemary to get a quick addition.  Follow the steps below to doctor the results.

Pan drippings didn’t give enough flavor? Consider adding apple cider vinegar, white port, or sherry, one tablespoon at a time.  Consider adding quality soy sauce (umami!) a couple of quick dashes (shakes) at a time.  It’ll solve both the flavor and the color problem.

Does your gravy look pale? This problem can happen especially if you’ve had to use commercial chicken broth to add to your home-created turkey broth. Take a trick from Southern red-eye gravy and add a few grains of instant coffee (won’t affect thickness) or a teaspoon or so (add very carefully!) of brewed coffee.  Your gravy will take on a warm color and flavor.

Is your gravy too thin? Remember that gravy will thicken a little as it cools.  (See the protein-gelatin note above.)  If you think it won’t thicken enough, you can add more thickener now, but you need to be really careful about what you add.  The easiest thing to add to hot gravy to make it thicken without lumping is potato flour (not potato starch).  Sprinkle about a tablespoon of potato flour on the top of your gravy.  Whisk for a couple of minutes, and it will disappear like magic.  If you don’t have potato flour but have already fixed boiled potatoes, you can take half a medium red potato (no skin) and mash it into the gravy.  Start by mashing the potato half in a small bowl and then add gravy a little at a time to make it thinner and smooth.  Once it’s thinned down quite a bit, add the mixture into the gravy.  If you’ve made traditional mashed potatoes without anything funky added, you could do the same thing with it. Whatever you do, do not add wheat flour or corn starch to hot gravy.  You’ll make dumplings of wallpaper paste.

Lumpy gravy? This happens to everyone at some time.  If you have an immersion blender (a long stick that will go straight into the pot), pull it out and blend those lumps away.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a regular blender.  Just be very careful!  Hot liquids tend to sort of explode in the blender, so start by spooning just the lumps in the blender and then adding just enough liquid to blend.  No blender or food processor of any kind?  Strain the gravy as your pour it into your gravy boat.

Do you have a gravy problem I haven’t mentioned here?  questions?  Feel free to post!

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