Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter harvest time

How can you tell when a vegetable is ready to harvest?

In my garden, the decision-making process goes something like this: "Aack! Quick! Get the knife! The broccoli's starting to bolt!"
Broccoli starting to bolt
We got to it just in time, yea, it and all its kin. We've had broccoli several times a week now for the last two weeks. (Yes, I planted all six seedlings at the same time--brilliant, I know.) Broccoli has always been a favorite vegetable in our house, but homegrown organic broccoli, even crowns that have started to bolt, harvested minutes before eating, tastes simply AMAZING. A brief steaming turned the broccoli a deep, dark green, and gave it a sweet flavor. Broccoli is sweet! Who knew? So sweet that now I'm trying to figure out how to get in another crop before the heat hits. (This variety is called Packman.)

Cauliflower is a more challenging cole crop to grow than broccoli, as I've learned first hand. I planted a variety called Snowball, which is a self-blanching variety. Blanching refers to the process of covering the heads with the leaves to protect the heads from sunlight; this keeps the heads snowy-white. The gardener can either tie the leaves around each head, or plant a self-blanching type, which has leaves that naturally grow tightly around the head. This head did pretty well until the last few days, when the leaves popped open and the head turned yellow. Sigh. Cauliflower is also very sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and moisture, resulting in "ricing," as illustrated in this photograph -- the florets separate and spread out instead of remaining tight and close together.
"Snowball" cauliflower
Yellow, ricey heads are fine to eat, they just don't look very pretty, and aren't quite as firm and crisp. This is the only head I've managed to to harvest out of six plants. The other plants either have no heads, or have tiny heads which have been attacked by downy mildew, causing gray spots on the florets and rendering the head inedible. Boo. I may try cauliflower again this fall, but with a different variety.

The White Lady turnips, on the other hand, have been very productive. Here's a photograph of the first harvest.
White Lady turnips
The turnip is a vegetable that engenders strong opinions. Folks tend to either love turnips or hate them. Jack has proclaimed that he does not like turnips. I don't think I've eaten turnips often enough to have an opinion. In any event, now that I have a bumper crop of turnips, I need to find recipes -- and quickly! Three I'm considering are Julia Child's Glazed Turnips, Stephen Cooks' Baby Turnips and Sugar Snap Peas, and Leon O'Neal's Turnip Greens (with bacon and Louisiana hot sauce). We may have enough turnips to try all three recipes.

What about you? What have you harvested from your winter garden? (Yes, herbs count!) Do you have a favorite turnip recipe? If you do, please share!

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.


  1. Ah lovely broccoli. Sadly i got no veggies in my garden but tangerine is in fully loaded with fruits.

  2. Your garden has produced lots of great vegs. this year. Turnips- did you grow those from seed? I'm not sure I would know what to do with them as I have never bought them. I think my mother would do carrots and turnips together and mash them. It has not been a good year for vegs. here. I just noticed that my nappa cabbage, which I thought were starting to head up, are actually producing a flower in the center. There will be no tight cabbages this year. Must be the weather. The peas are still OK and starting to produce flowers but I won't have the crop I had last year.

  3. Oh, Muhammad, I would trade turnips for tangerines any day! I have lime trees and just bought a Meyer lemon, I don't know where I would plant a tangerine!

    Jenny, I did grow the turnips from seed, they were quite easy. My cabbage and brussels sprouts haven't produced, either, and I didn't get the peas in the ground in January (forgot).

  4. I didn't plan well enough for a winter garden. We have some Swiss chard, but that's about it.

    My mother cooked turnips the way Jenny mentioned...mashed...only, without the carrots.
    I used to add raw slices, to veggie platters.
    The greens are good, cooked like spinach.

    I think the cauliflower would be a challenge. "Flucuations in temperature and moisture", would pretty much describe the weather, here in Central Texas.

  5. Nice looking produce ya got there. All we really have is Rosemary (bunches!) and Oregano.

    Anything with Sugar Snap Peas sounds great.

  6. I love broccoli, i'm looking forward to planting some this spring. Interesting you have fall and winter gardens. Do you plant anything in the summer or is it too hot?

  7. Oh, yes, Melanie, summer is the time in Central Texas for melons, okra, beans, cucumbers, peppers and heat-loving herbs like basil. We have a short spring window of opportunity for tomatoes, as it gets too hot for fruit to set in the summer. Transplants of tomato seedlings work best as night temps are often too cool here in early spring for seed germination.

  8. The birdie is wondering if he's really in texas! Your vegetables are gorgeous! I don't harvest in the winter really. One year I planted spinach in the fall and forgot about it. We had a 2 week period of really warm days in January (a very eerie time) and the spinach took off. I was able to make a couple of salads out of it.

  9. I admire your perserverance, I have given up on cauliflower. Crops that have done pretty well for me include, swiss chard, kale, lettuce, arrugula, cabbage, pac choi, collards, and "asian stir fry mix" renee's seed packet mix.

  10. Nice save on the broccoli! Just reading your description makes me salivate for my own! Sweet, huh? I just checked mine outside and, luckily, they're not flowering yet. I was brilliant and planted nine at the same time. They won't all be ready at the same time, so that's good.

    How are those side-shoots looking?

    Wow to the cauliflower. That's certainly an interesting looking specimen! I guess it's finicky with all of the temperature fluctuations here in Texas?

    Ya win some and lose some, huh?

  11. The side shoots did well -- enough from nine plants for a side dish for two. All nine plants are now in the compost bin, replaced with nine fresh seedlings to try and get that second harvest. Let's see if I win this one!