Fresh, homegrown in winter

ClareBroommaker's picture

We just had lunch, an egg omelet that included chives (not the garlic chives whose seed I'm offering, but the more common round leave onion chive that gets pretty purple flowers), lemon thyme, chickweed, and basil.

All of these are growing in pots.  The chives were planted about 10 years ago, the lemon thyme from a tiny plant 15 years ago.  Chives are looking prettty flattened and browned at this point, but as long as the winter is relatively mild, they will keep growing from their bulb, putting up fresh green for us to find.

The lemon thyme is nearly evergreen, but turns maroon-ish in the leaves, in order to gather the warming sunrays.  It will loose all its tiny leaves and even die back on the ends when winter is long and rough. But with a springtime haircut it grows out lush and beautiful again.

The chickweed germinated some weeks ago in a pot in which I had grown a dahlia rhizome in the summer. Since the pot had been placed to decorate the walk to the front door, I spotted it soon after it sprouted, and today I took the first cuttings from it.  It has grown stems about 8 inches long that were trying to lay snug against the soil.  Sometimes chickweed is called winterweed -- no wonder.

One pot of basil was grown in a 6 inch plastic pot that has previously grown St Johnswort seedlings and prickly pear leaf cuttings.  When it started getting too cold for basil outside, I pinched off its flowers and brought it into the cold but south facing kitchen window.  I could easily wipe out this little plant with a single pot of spaghetti sauce, but I treat it as if it were some precious, exotic, herb that I will never have again; I ration it.

A second pot of basil is one that was rescued from my compost pile.  A neighbor had contributed it early in the spring.  I don't think she realized it had survived winter in its pot and would grow well again when hot weather came.  I think it might be Thai basil.  It has reddish stems, wirey, but stout.  I could see the tiny, undeveloped leaf buds when I picked it up from the top of the compost pile and gave it a new pot.  It just looked hardy.  I'm wondering whether this basil might be perennial if I keep the flowers picked off before they develop seeds.

Lunch even had a fresh citrus dessert. Tangerine.  We grow the tiniest tangerines in a 16 inch pot that sits on the front porch as long as the temperature is above 35 F.  I'd love to put it in a bigger pot, but the tree would grow too big for our house if it had any more soil.

What fresh foods are you able to find in nature or in your garden in winter?

ClareBroommaker's picture

It's too soon to claim to have fresh oyster mushrooms in winter, but I'm crossing my fingers that I will have them in about three weeks.

My son gave me a large bowl piled high with shed leaves and used coffee grounds. He damp pasteurized them and innoculated the mass with oyster mushroom, then pulled a plastic bag over it all. My house is 62-66 F and he says that should be just right for mushroom growth. He gave it to me Dec 29, and I see hyphae forming already.

Finally a house plant I don't have to find sun for! My house is pretty dim.

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ClareBroommaker's picture

We ate the pictured mushrooms last month. There were a lot more mushrooms initiating, but they shriveled up, I'm sure because my house is too dry. I tried to fight the dryness by spooning water on to the mass of hyphae, but they were hydrophobic; the water just rolled off. Soon, though, some blue-green mold was growing. So I tried just shrouding the mushroom mass with plastic bags and planned to wait till I could stick the whole thing out in the back garden where it could have more natural conditions and perhaps produce in the spring.

Well, in ignoring it, more mushrooms initiated and look healthy. If they do as well as the ones in the photo, I should be harvesting again in a couple weeks. To further address the dry air in the house, I have set the bowl in a tray and filled the try with water. Wish me luck.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Here is another picture of cultivated oyster mushrooms. The back story: Years ago I was at a small dinner party and was talking with the winemaker of a local winery in the area I was visiting. In the course of the conversation she dissed boxed wine in general. If It where not for cheap wine I would not be drinking any wine at all. Her comment inspired me to do an art project involving boxed wine and mushrooms which I titled Wine Gone Bad?

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Sweet Tatorman's picture

Here is a photo of a log growing shitake mushrooms that is producing a better than average yield.

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ClareBroommaker's picture

Mine are growing out of of the wrapper from an extra large package of toilet paper. (Meant to post this under the mushrooms out of wine box, though under shittake might be an appropriate correspondence.)

Sweet Tatorman's picture

>Finally a house plant I don't have to find sun for! My house is pretty dim.<

And a house plant that is not even a plant!

Many species of mushroom including Oysters actually do need light to fruit but the required levels are sufficiently low that even inside with the shades drawn they will get enough.

Oyster mushrooms are good and one of the easier types to grow. A big benefit is they are fast unlike something like Shitakes that often require 1 to 2 years to first fruiting.

Except in inclement weather I generally take a walk of a mile or so before breakfast. I keep an eye out for edible mushrooms and Oysters are one of the few that I find in Winter months. This morning I came back with a decent servings worth. Oddly the clump was lying on the ground detacted from whatever substrate they had grown on. They likely grew up in a tree and were detached by high winds we had overnight. I scanned nearby trees and did not see any more so it is a bit of a mystery where they came from.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

All that is left in the Sweet Tatorman garden at the moment is chard, kale, mustard, leeks, and a bit of dill. The chard looks to be just barely hanging on. I haven't picked any in quite awhile but I suppose I should while the gittin's still good. While not directly from the garden I am still enjoying peanut sprouts on a daily basis. I'm almost through with the 2017 peanuts and will finally be using this year's peanuts soon. Also not from the garden are my logs for growing Shitake mushrooms. I store them next to the local creek and when conditions are forecast to be favorable I will soak a few logs for a day or two to force a fruiting. My current 10 day forecast looks good with highs in the 50's and no nighttime freezes so just this morning I placed few logs in the creek for a soaking.

An observation that I have made about Winter crops that are somewhat freeze tolerant is that there is not a single temperature or low temperature duration that finishes them off. There seems to be a bit of acclimation occuring if the lows come progressively lower over a period of time vs the case of being hit with a really hard freeze right off. Taking mustard as an example, I have seen it completely done in with a low of 22F as the first hard freeze. In contrast, this year the lows were progressively lower down to a low of 19F with 4 hrs <20F and 14 hrs <28F and the mustard is still going.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Oh, a friend of mine is just getting into sprouts. I should tell him you said that peanuts are good for that. I bet they make really hefty sprouts. But do they need fairly warm temps to germinate?

Sweet Tatorman's picture

They do make satisfyingly hefty sprouts. Wintertime room temperature for me is 72F at which they require 4-5 days to be sufficiently sprouted. They likely would perform down to mid 60's though slower.

Blueberry's picture

My garlic came from a grower in North Georgia many years ago. He had a ad in the Georgia Market bulletin. Growing season September to late May have them planted under some pear trees. They are simply called native garlic no body knows were they are from. My multiplier onions were also ordered from the market bulletin from a Mr H.E Davis many years ago. I called them H.E.Davis onions in his honor. Plant them in the fall and will dig them up in late May. Have fresh cooking onions in the winter. Second onion is some kind of Granex purchase plants in the fall harvest in May. The Granex is a nice big sweet onion but is a heavy feeder. Commerical growers will apply app 100 lbs of nitrogen during the growing season per acre!!!!! That is like a half a ton of commerical fertilizer. Your Tengerine is it sweet or sour? What kind of root stock did the grower use?

ClareBroommaker's picture

The tangerine looks to be a seedling, not grafted. I had gone to the field outlet for Starks Bros in Louisiana, Missouri to buy some apple trees, but they only had a few unsold and those did not look good, so they suggested I go to their more frou-frou garden center in another town that was on my way back to St Louis. So I did that, and while at the garden center I bought this tiny tangerine on a whim. It was also a Starks tree but not further identified than "tangerine." I didn't really care; it would be a novelty for me.

I think I would call this a sweet fruit because it has been when I have thinned the fruit on time and let them grow bigger. The less I have thinned them, the more sour they turn out. I've wondered whether really they are a tangerine-kumquat hybrid because the skins are so tender and tasty. Sometimes the skin is sweeter than the fruit. But they are round to slightly squat, as I think of tangerines being, and they ripen without swatches of green, unlike how I think of kumquats. A few months ago I came across a book on citrus that I think might help me tease out what fruit or possible hybrid this might be, but I have not delved into it.

Anyway, I'm really impressed with how overall "tough" this little tree is. It has far from ideal conditions and just keeps growing, blooming, producing.

Do you have any idea for a natural way to get more iron to it? I have been using Ironite granules, but would like to try something less manufactured.

Blueberry's picture

Iron is like a must have for citrus. I use old rusty metal in your case some very small nails 4d or smaller mixed in the soil 4-6 nails. Seedling citrus takes 5-7 years before producing fruit and as a rule have very large thorns. Thinning fruit is a good idea. Citrus likes sunlight to make the sugers needed for a good tasting fruit. Your tree is probably on a rootstock called Flying Dragon. There are like 25 different kinds of tangerines just enjoy.

Blueberry's picture

I would not want to be living in a cold place after the long descent. Fresh herbs chives, sage, garlic, rosemary, lavender, orgenao(sp), thyme. In the garden collards, purple tops, bok choy, onions 2 kinds, mustard greens. Citrus lemons 2 kinds, Hamlin orange, Parson Brown, Changsha, Kimbrough, Owari,Calamondin, Rangpur lime, Thomasville Citraquat. Seminole pumpkin the ones planted in the woods still have green vines so calling it fresh. Eggs from time share chickens!!!

Serinde's picture

I live at 56N, roughly, but it's a maritime climate. If we husband our resources, we have parsnips and leeks still standing (or safely underground), and most of the herbs (oregano, sage) hang on over winter, but I dry parsley during the summer and store it. The chives are now coming through strongly. We have a couple of cold frames and I intend to find a place for a greenhouse someday. But in these parts, it's mostly about understanding how to store the autumn harvest. We've just finished the last of our white onions, but we still have red ones, tons of garlic (a crop we replant each autumn) and potatoes (King Edward mostly, but also a few Charlottes left, but not for long -- they're for the lunchtime soup). Our broad beans, planted last autumn as an experiment, are growing well under cover, so once we have some warmth, I expect them to bear a good crop at least a month or two earlier (end of May rather than July). But there's no doubt about the hungry gap in this part of the world.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Warm climate? Darn it! Ha, there's nothing like moving 800 miles south for fresh winter food! My inlaws lived in Florida and they planted their tomatoes in January (if I remember correctly). They were harvesting before mine even got planted.

The longest I have been able to keep rosemary alive is through two winters, and that was pure luck of warmer winter. I've tried a couple of supposedly hardy rosemarys and they just couldn't survive. I've brought them into the basement window several years and the got spider mites and died before the next spring. My mate likes rosemary a lot; he'd appreciate it if we could always grow it.

Now sage, I do have in the garden year after year. My plant has grown huge and I'm giving jars of rubbed sage for Christmas this year. I acutally find dried sage much more flavor-releasing than fresh sage, I guess because the leaves ruptured by rubbing exude the flavor. So I don't normally use fresh sage, even though it is out there in winter.

I should try oregano. I think it could be perennial here.

I have started some onions that I hope can perennialize and be harvestable any time of year. They are "potato onions." Garlic perennializes but usually dies back to the bulb over winter, so it is hard to find if I don't dig it at late spring / early summer leaf die-back. My harvested garlic is already sprouting in the basement. Used some of that yesterday, but I think of it as stored food rather than fresh.

Not as cold as many areas, but cold for CA, and it does freeze and snow a little bit. Outside there is miners lettuce and red russian kale right now, these reseed themselves. The hens are out of molt and laying some. I have a couple protected citrus trees that after years of freeze damage now fruit, so 5 satsumas last month, and now the oranges are just getting ripe ( yes, in the snow this week ! ) Otherwise, there is preserved harvest from the summer, potatoes in the garage, butternut squash, canned tomatoes, canned fruit jams, dried apples, dried persimmons. Berries in the freezer.

lathechuck's picture

Here in central Maryland, we only get a few winter days that stay below freezing, and occasional snows. A "weed" that seems to prosper through the winter is "hairy bittercress", and (according to Internet sources), the leaves, flowers, and stems are edible. The leaves are small, the stems are tough, and the flavor is unsurprisingly "bitter". However, it is said to be rich in vitamins and minerals, being related to broccoli, cabbage, and mustards. The important thing, though, is that it thrives in cool/cold weather. I've found that dandelion greens are much better tasting when blended into an omelet, and I'll be trying bittercress that way, too.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Thanks. I think I've seen that hairy bittercress. I'll keep an eye out for it and will sample it, if found. I looked at photos, and judge it to be a charming plant. It looks friendly.

Thank you for this, lathechuck. I'm also in Maryland and this is all over our yard - I couldn't figure out what it was, but I'm excited to try eating it next year. So far I've identified wild strawberries, dandelions, and broadleaf plantain as edibles in our yard. There's also something that seems to be a wild onion, but I haven't definitively identified it yet. I'm sure there are plenty more edibles as well!

dtrammel's picture

The wild onions in most people's yards are Ramps

https://www.wildedible.com/blog/foraging-ramps

The leaves are very thin and almost round, more like a chive. They do bunch very closely and have small white bulbs. I've never seen them flower and they get about 6 inches tall. They first appear at the tail end of winter/early spring, before the clover and other grasses pop up. Maybe wild chives?

Just identified this in the yard too, and am planning to make it into a pesto this week!

dtrammel's picture

Any chance of a picture or two?

Blueberry's picture

Good info with pictures the second site shows what I have growing around my place. http://livetheoldway.com/wild-onion-wild-garlic-pictorial-identification... https://www.fnps.org/plants/plant/allium-canadense

I'll try and get a picture of what's in my yard tonight, but here's wild garlic mustard. It's all over my neighborhood (apparently a pretty aggressive plant). https://www.ediblewildfood.com/garlic-mustard.aspx and https://ouroneacrefarm.com/2014/06/18/foraging-garlic-mustard/

vortenjou's picture

Speaking of hefty sprouts - I do pea shoots and black oil sunflower seed shoots in small trays of soil - sprouted in a dark cabinet over my refrigerator to get them reaching tall for light, then pulling them out onto a windowsill to green up before eating. Snip off above soil height and you have clean salad greens. You get a ton of edible volume for the space required, and sunflower shoots are surprisingly delicious. Peas even resprout!

I've had good results with Oregon Giant Sugar Pea - i use it for both indoor shoots and outdoor field plantings - and just your standard birdseed sunflowers, sifted to remove chaff. Clover/radish/canola also work well this way.

Right now I'm experimenting with my fall harvest of lambsquarters seed from a new garden bed I didn't get planted in time. I'm hoping that sprouting this way will get me good food value without having to winnow all the leftover seed casings off like I would for flour!

https://www.chelseagreen.com/product/year-round-indoor-salad-gardening/

lathechuck's picture

I have a kumquat and a lime tree growing in pots in my dining room (inside a west-facing bay window) in the winter. They move outside when the weather gets warm. In the 18 months or so since I acquired them, the kumquat has borne dozens of fruit in four waves (two around Christmas time), and the lime has provided three edible fruit (with three more on the tree waiting for the right event). One lime is enough juice for two glasses of limeade, or a batch of tapioca-lime pudding for four. I've used a potato-ricer (hand press) and a garlic press to extract the maximum juice and pulp.
I collect water from the roof (which I save indoors in 5-gal jugs during freezing weather) to water them during the winter, so the anti-corrosion "orthophosphate" chemical doesn't build up in the soil.

I don't know whether pollination is an issue, since the trees have been outside while blooming. The lime is about to bloom again, but the weather is getting warm enough for it to go out (mid-Maryland climate).

ClareBroommaker's picture

I had to toss the bowl of mushroom material out in the garden. I never did get to harvest a second round of mushrooms. The thing turned stinky and had bright orange liquid pooling up in indentations, in addition to the blue green mold. But I hoped the sunshine would cure all the nastiness and that some mushrooms might develop outside. Well, this afternoon my husband happened to notice a harvestable piece! It weighed 3.4 ounces and was delicious fried in garlic butter. My husband made a photo.
So it is no longer fresh in winter, but in spring.

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Quite a few herbs can be kept indoors in pots indefinitely to provide some fresh flavors in the winter. In addition to the ones that I noticed were previously mentioned, I have garlic chives, parsley, oregano, and hot peppers growing in pots on windowsills. All of them have been growing for at least two years with periodic harvesting and some are much older that that.

lathechuck's picture

I've found that the usual leafy greens (spinach, arugula, kale, lettuce) can tolerate sub-freezing temperatures, common here in Maryland during the winter, as long as they're enclosed to prevent any movement while frozen. That is: no wind, no rain/snow, no weeding, or harvesting. Any movement ruptures the ice-filled cells. The enclosure must be ventilated; I've killed more plants in hot, poorly-ventilated cold-frames than in frozen, well-ventilated cold-frames. Leaf tissue that's up against the glass will be damaged, but the rest of the plants should be fine. They won't grow much, but they'll be fresh for harvest, and ready to spring forth when the weather gets warm again. My over-wintered arugula had seed ready for harvest in early June, so I gathered some and planted the adjacent bed. First harvest was yesterday!