Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.
We Got a Late Start on Last Year's Winter Garden
We got a late start for the winter garden of 2020-21, due to spending the autumn creating what we believed to be the perfect garden space. For the winter garden of 2021-22, we started at the proper time for our area. What we did not expect was two hard freezes that winter. The unexpected freezing temperatures wiped out all our leaf lettuces and iceberg lettuce.
Creating That Garden Space
Yes, we were late getting our garden spot ready for planting. That is thanks to Hurricane Sally that laid a huge pecan tree across our backyard, damaging our roof, demolishing flower beds, and ripping up some of our irrigation system. That tree’s root ball lying on its side was taller than me.
When that 100-year-old tree fell, it changed our plans considerably. I did, however, put four cabbage plants in one of the front yard flower beds. The green cabbage leaves were a nice background for the colorful snapdragons I had planted earlier. We had a lot of work to do before even thinking about planting a winter crop, but I digress. Back to the veggies.
What I Learned
Here I will share my experiences with the winter veggies I have grown. I know many of you are in areas where snow is already falling in September and October, and the ground is already as hard as an auditor’s heart, but around here in Zone 8b, the soil in December is pretty cool, but workable. So we can grow lots of winter veggies.
All of these plants will take up a lot of space in your garden. Each has large leaves that can have a diameter of about 24 inches (60.96 cm). So you will need to allow them room to “spread their wings”.
All of these plants should be watered at ground level, as watering from above can cause the heads to rot. Also, when cutting for harvest, be sure to cut on a slant, so water will run off and not soak into the cut stem inviting fungus, disease, and pests.
If any of the plants have lower leaves that begin to turn yellow, and the yellowing seems to move upward in the plant, you may have a nitrogen deficiency. You can add a high-nitrogen fertilizer, but chose one with a low phosphorous content.
The First Time I Tried To Grow Cauliflower
I knew all vegetables need full sun, but there was something about cauliflower I did not know. The first time I tried to grow cauliflower was before my days as a master gardener, and before I knew much about growing veggies — I had grown mostly flowers.
So, I had no idea the beautiful creamy white heads of cauliflower must be protected from sunlight. This is important, as they will become toxic if they turn color like the one in the photo below.
There are purple cauliflowers, and they are fine to eat. I'm talking only about those more common white ones that turn color when they should remain a creamy white.
Trouble Was Brewing
When I saw mine beginning to change color, I researched the issue. I tried to prevent the change from growing worse, but it was too late. They were not safe to eat.
The next time I planted them was in December of 2020, when we were still staying home to avoid contracting COVID-19. As soon as the heads began forming, I used clothes pins to close the large leaves over the heads. Unfortunately, as the heads grew larger and larger, the clothes pins couldn't hold the leaves in place.
Read More From Dengarden
Also, I had planted them too late. They should have been in the ground by October at the latest, but as mentioned above, our garden spot wasn't ready then. I knew I was taking a chance planting them so late, but did it anyway. It was a waste of time, effort, and money. In fall 2021, I put them in the ground at the proper time. I am still looking for a better method of protecting them from the sun.
We Prepare Cauliflower a Few Different Ways
We enjoy cutting our cauliflower into small pieces, then steaming it in the microwave, and dressing it with sea salt, black pepper, and a tiny bit of butter. We use vegan butter, but whatever you prefer will work just fine. A couple of minutes in the microwave should do, depending on the amount you are cooking. Steam it until a fork or knife slides into it easily, but not until it is soft and mushy.
Another way we enjoy it is to cook it until it is soft and mushy, then mash it with a potato masher. We use the same seasonings as when steaming it.
We also enjoy eating it raw, dipped into light ranch dressing. Any ranch dressing works fine. We prefer the lower calorie light ranch.
Rutabagas are root vegetables, and are so very easy to grow. I simply put the seedlings into well-prepared soil, fertilized with organic fertilizer, and kept them watered. They pretty much took care of themselves. They, too, were planted a bit late, but it did not seem to be a problem.
One thing I will do differently next fall is to plant them deeper and earlier. As the roots grew, they began coming up out of the soil, so I kept mounding soil over them to keep the roots covered. Live and learn, right?
What's With the Little "Cemetery" In The Background?
Some of you must be wondering what that is in the background of the photo of me with my rutabaga. It looks like Bo is creating a little pet cemetery. Actually, those are the footings that are now supporting a garden shed that was being built for us at the time.
Brussels sprouts should be planted in early spring or very late summer. They taste best when grown in cool weather, and even a slight frost heightens the flavor.
The first time I planted Brussels sprouts, I had no idea how much space they would take up in the garden. At that time, I had only a small kitchen garden with a few herbs and some onions. Impulsively, I decided to plant 6 seedlings of Brussels sprouts in one side of that tiny garden.
Each plant has large leaves that surround the stalk, and those leaves smothered some of my lettuce plants, but fortunately, I had planted several of each type of lettuce.
Brussels Sprouts Are Delicious
We usually drizzle a little EVOO, some salt or garlic powder, and our favorite pomegranate-infused balsamic vinegar. Then steam them in the microwave.
When we want a nicer side dish, we exert a bit more effort by halving them, and browning them in a shallow pan, as shown in the photo above, then adding seasonings, or separating them leaf by leaf, then cooking them with the pomegranate seeds and/or bacon bits. If you're trying to maintain a healthy diet, leave out the bacon bits.
I have tried my hand at growing broccoli only once, and it did not go well. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know what I was doing. I only thought I knew, and tried to grow it in the summer. Big mistake.
Broccoli grows best in slightly acidic soil that is moist, but well-drained. The best-tasting broccoli is harvested in the mornings in cool weather.
Because spring temperatures are more sporadic, it’s trickier to grow it in spring. With higher temps, the florets will begin to bloom, causing the broccoli to have a bitter taste. Harvest broccoli by cutting the stem at least 6 inches below the head. You can continue to harvest additional heads from the same plant, as it will produce new heads after the first one is removed.
It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Be sure to wash it well, but if storing it in the fridge, be sure to dry it very well first.
How Do You Eat Your Broccoli?
Lots of people smother broccoli with melted cheese. We simply drizzle it with lemon juice, a little EVOO, and sometimes some pomegranate-infused balsamic vinegar. it's absolutely delicious.
Often in restaurants, broccoli is over-cooked, causing it to be mushy. We used to steam it, but these days, we put it in the microwave for 2 minutes—no more. It turns a bright green color, and is tender, but not turned to mush.
Fresh broccoli cut into small pieces and tossed with raisins, shredded carrots, and dressed with mayo makes a delicious veggie salad. We use mayo prepared with olive oil rather than the traditional mayo, but to each his own, right?
© 2021 MariaMontgomery
Your Comments and Questions Are Always Welcome
MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on July 20, 2021:
There is an error in the summary. The article is about winter veggies, as shown in the title. I have fixed the error in the summary. My apologies. I do have a separate article about greens to plant for fall, winter, & spring.