Winter is For Dreaming

The short days and long nights of the cold season are the perfect time to dream of all the possibilities for your garden in the upcoming season. Here are four tips and a recipe to inspire you to try something new in 2015.

1. Make a List

Dream Big! What would really make your next gardening season special? A new raised bed? Growing herbs from seed? Or perhaps something more ambitious such as tracking down heirloom varieties of a favorite vegetable, trying your hand at espaliering a fruit tree or even building a greenhouse? Setting goals now will help you to plan for the resources that you’ll need so you are ready when those balmy days of spring arrive.

2. Gather Information

Can I  really grow a pomegranate in the Pacific Northwest? Do I have enough sun and space to grow seven kinds of basil? What is this ‘lasagna mulching’ that I’ve heard about, is it the right method to create a new bed in the parking strip? Once you’ve dreamt big and set some goals, it’s time to do some fact-checking and investigation. Luckily there are many great resources out there, but finding accurate information on the web can be a challenge.

Local extension programs offer a wealth of tested techniques and proven varieties for the vagaries of climate in your specific area. In the Pacific Northwest, that includes both Oregon and Washington State Universities. And if a veggie garden is part of your list, Growing Your Own is a great place to start.

The library is another wonderful source of information, and an easy way to try out different techniques, themes and authors before investing in a copy yourself. Multnomah County Library has a plethora of books on a variety of gardening topics, not to mention cook books for ideas on using up your edible bounty, including numerous ebooks that you can view right now.

One book that is worth investing in is Seattle Tilth’s Maritime Northwest Garden Guide. Newly revised this year, it’s been in circulation since 1998 and provides a month-by-month guide tailored to our wet winters and cool summers. Its available at most larger grocery stores in Portland, usually in the magazine section.

Don’t forget the seed and plant catalogues! They can be the bright lights in these dreary days, filing your head with possibilities you didn’t even know existed for your garden. Ever thought of growing hardy kiwi, purple-podded fava beans or pineapple sage? Did you know you could? Some local companies include Territorial Seed, One Green World, and Nichols Garden Nursery.

3. Make a plan

Now that you've got the information you need, put your plan on paper. Figure out what steps can be done now, and which will need more time, energy or money to complete them. 

If your plan includes lush organic veggie starts, mark May 2, 2015 on your calendar to visit the Incredible Edibles Plant Sale. Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer your edible gardening questions, and walk you through the over 50 varieties of veggie starts for sale! Find a your next favorite.

4. Learn what you CAN do in winter

We are blessed with mild winters in Portland, and are often unaware of how productive our gardens can be, even in January. Hardy crops such as kale and cabbage will make it through most winters without extra protection. Floating row cover or a cold frame can trap enough warmth to have radishes in February. Carrots and parsnips planted in the summer will overwinter if given a layer of insulating mulch, becoming sweeter in the process. See some other Seasonal Activities that can get you out in the garden.

5. Eat! Here is a simple Just-Picked-In-January Kale recipe to encourage you to add winter gardening to your dreams for next year.

Get out an 8 to 10 inch sauté pan with a lid (an upturned plate will do in a pinch) and place, uncovered, over medium high heat. Peel and dice one medium onion of your choice, add it along with a glug of olive oil to the pan. While that sizzles, trim the thick center rib and stem from 8-10 large kale leaves then chop them crosswise into half-inch ribbons. Peel and dice 1-2 cloves of garlic. When the onion begins to be translucent, reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic (with more oil if the pan is too dry). Sauté until fragrant, 1-2 minutes, then add the kale. Season with salt, pepper and one or more of the options below. Stir/toss to coat – tongs are useful here. Get the lid handy, turn the heat up to medium-high and add a ¼ cup of liquid (vegetable or chicken stock, or wine will add flavor, use water in a pinch & up the seasonings) and quickly cover with the lid to trap the ensuing steam. Let steam for 3 to 5 min then check for doneness and stir/toss. Kale will be collapsed and beginning to soften. Winter kale tends to be thicker than summer kale, so cover and let cook for an additional 3 to 8 minutes, depending on the kale and your preference for texture/softness. Taste & adjust the seasoning if needed, and finish with a squeeze of lemon.

Seasoning Options

  • 1 t or more of red chili flakes
  • 1 t Montreal steak spice (omit salt if using)
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1 t lemon pepper (omit or reduce regular pepper)
  • 1 T grainy mustard