Although summer is my favorite time of year, autumn rates a very close second when I consider what’s happening in the garden. Most of the warm weather crops will get frosted to death soon; so the remaining harvest is, in large part, greens.
My beautiful girlfriend and I got hooked on greens as a result of living in Florida while I was in the Air Force. Southerners do love their greens: collards, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens… We tried all of them and were smitten pretty much instantly; and when we moved up north we added Swiss chard to the fold. I recently surprised a lady at the grocery store when I noticed the beets she was buying had some very nice greens attached to them. “Those are nice beet greens! Do you eat them?” I asked. She was completely unaware that they were edible; and seemed interested in actually trying them.
Greens of one variety or another have been a staple in our garden for over 40 years. They are easy to grow and packed with nutrition. And of course, while we are eating our greens, we recite the Greens Eating Poem:
Greens!! Greens!! They’re good for your heart!!
The more you eat ‘em the more you’re smart!!
The more you’re smart, the better you feel,
So eat your greens with every meal!!
(And eat clam chowder to make them louder!!)
Well maybe that’s not how the poem goes…
Anyway, greens are one of the most versatile vegetables for the simple fact that you can eat them just as soon as they start growing; and continue to harvest right up through winter. I garden intensively; meaning I grow a lot of food in a small space. I often purposely sow seeds for collards or kale a bit too thickly and thin them out as they germinate. The remaining seedlings are then allowed to grow a bit more, and I continue to harvest by thinning as the plants grow. The sprouts and / or young plants are a wonderful addition to any almost any dish, salad and stir-fry to name just two. Just snip off the roots, rinse a bit, and toss them into whatever you like. I’ve even been known to use them as a substitute for lettuce on a sandwich.
Eventually my beds of greens will be thinned so there’s about a foot between plants. Many of them, like collards and kale for example, will thrive throughout the entire gardening season. I often plant root crops in the beds with the greens. The combination of leafy vegetables and root crops keeps weeds at bay while the vegetables thrive. Beds are also a good habitat for toads, spiders, and other beneficial creatures who keep pest insect damage to a minimum.
Swiss chard is a big favorite of ours. It tastes very similar to spinach but will produce right up to winter. It’s frost hardy, but after the temp falls below 20 degrees F for awhile it will die. Therefore, the Swiss chard has to be completely harvested before the weather stays bitter cold. Kale and wild cabbage (ancestor to collards), though,will survive the entire winter. These two are among our favorites. They’re good, hearty fare at the table either by themselves or mixed up in other dishes. The flavor is pretty strong in summer but mellows nicely when the cool weather comes. And besides, aren’t they just plain pretty?
On more than one occasion I’ve picked wild cabbage, kale, and also kohlrabi out of the snow. Although they appear to be dead in the garden they’re still green. When brought inside the effectiveness of their natural antifreeze shows up as they magically “come to life.” A good snow cover is welcome in the kale and wild cabbage beds, because snow protects their leaves from getting wind burn during the cold winter weather. However, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s a good idea to mark where the beds are with some long sticks. It’s no fun shoveling snow around looking for your greens!
For those of you who are old enough to remember, Granny used to cook up a mess of collard greens pretty regularly on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” I went hunting for some video of that; didn’t find any. However, I found this and rather enjoyed it. Hope you do too.