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Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Cold Frames, Fresh Greens and Homegrown Roots

winter plant starts at Southern Exposure

Right now our garden is full of all kinds of fresh greens for salads and cooking. We particularly enjoy the tasty, fast growing, winter hardy greens like New Star Mustard and Even’ Star Winter Arugula from Brett Grosghal of Even’ Star Farm in Maryland.

  more cold frames at the SESE farm 

If you just got the year-round garden bug you might consider making quick and cheap homemade cold frames or a wire low tunnel. We set up a simple straw  bale cold frame with 9 yr old kalwall covers, a scrap wood  cold frame with used window  covers and a bed covered with a Reemay Garden Blanket, just before Thanksgiving to see what we can start from seed during what Elliot Coleman calls the “Persephone Days.” (This is the period from Nov 21- Jan21 when light is lowest and plant growth slows to a crawl.) Most of our winter garden was already sown by August or September, but we’re experimenting starting quick growing greens and radishes further into winter.
 cold frames at the Southern Exposure experimental gardens 

Yesterday, Irena and I went out to see what had germinated from my Nov 28 sowings.  It was no surprise to find full rows of tiny curly cress and arugula seedlings as well as a good showing of Bronze Arrow lettuce seedlings in the straw bale cold frame.  The celery and all of the herb transplants were also looking good in both cold frames.  The plants under a Reemay blanket were doing fine except that it looks like the area has become a favorite playground for our 2 dogs. Paw prints dotted the beds.  We will put up wire hoops and hope that will make the bead less appealing to Odin and Odessa.

Odin Not Running Around
Inspired by all the winter produce on our farm, we are starting a new tradition: Homegrown Friday, a concept borrowed from our friend, bio-intensive mini-farming teacher Cindy Conner of Homeplace Earth. Cindy serves dinners featuring home grown food in every dish each Friday in Lent.   We started on the first Friday in December and will end on the first Friday of Spring, to celebrate the end of winter.


OHenry Sweet Potatoes 

A delicious pear & squash soup at the opening reception for the Virginia Food Security Summit in Charlottesville inspired us to make our own Southern remake of traditional potato leek soup for Homegrown Friday. We used O’Henry Sweet Potatoes and American Flag Leeks. We put on a pot of Violets Multicolor Butterbeans to cook while preparing the soup.  They are so pretty and tasty that you only need to add fresh garlic, olive oil and a little salt. Corn muffins made with the first fresh ground Floriani Red Flint cornmeal plus a salad of Bloomsdale spinach, Bronze Arrow lettuce and arugula complete our quick and easy  Homegrown Friday menu for this week.

Sweet Potato Leek Soup 

Clean the leeks: cut off the green tops, trim the root ends, peel off the outermost layer, and wash well.  Chop coarsely.  Reserve some of the green tops for garnish.

Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a 2 qt. pot.  Add the leeks and sauté about 3 minutes until transparent.

Add the potatoes pieces and bouillon cubes, and add enough water to just cover. Boil until the potatoes are tender. Reduce heat to low.

Blend the soup until you have a smooth, thick broth. Stir in the cream (or half and half). Stir in the butter and cloves for extra flavor. For more richness, add shredded Parmesan cheese.

Garnish with finely chopped ⅓ cup of leek greens.

Thanks for stopping by and we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’re growing and cooking. 

Ira Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+ varieties of Non-GMO, open pollinated and organic seeds. Ira is a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS and many other events throughout the Southeast.