December is a time of digging in and staying warm. There is still life in the garden! In the beds and pots, kale, cabbage, salad burnet, sorrel, rosemary, oregano, garlic, onions, lettuce, leeks, chard, dill, celery, carrots, spinach are all still green in December.
Fresh herbs are just steps away from the back door. Thyme, oregano, chives, winter savory, sorrel, sage, onions, rosemary, lavender are all still harvestable in the early December garden. I have picked fresh herbs for Christmas dinner many years in our Zone 6 garden.
You can also grow most herbs indoors as well like chives, parsley, oregano, rosemary, parsley, chervil, and basil. Just place your potted herbs in a sunny window. If you are using a greenhouse, your kale, celery, mustard, lettuce, chard, spinach, cabbage, broccoli are still happy under cover. They will not grow much until sunlight gets back to 10 hours per day in late January.
All cold crops are at their sweetest during the cold weather. They make great salads and are tasty steamed or braised.
The Buying Local Option
There are several winter farmers markets across the country nowadays. Check out www.localharvest.org for one near you. This is a great place to see what grows well in your area in the winter. Local farmers are almost always willing to share what they know and give tips on the varieties they have had the best luck with.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It is where you invest in a local farmer in January when they have to purchase their seeds and supplies for the upcoming gardening season. You then get a weekly share of the farmers harvest from May through October.
Before I started our own garden, we joined a CSA. It was great. We got lots of super fresh produce, our weekly grocery bill was significantly reduced as our meals were planned around the vegetables, and it was an adventure getting to try new recipes with veggies we had never ate before. The CSA experience provided a perfect blueprint for what we liked to eat and what grows well in our zone.
If you are interested in produce grown without pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals, ask if the farmer uses organic practices.
Where to find a CSA? You can do a search on www.localharvest.org. Many sell out so don’t delay if you want to join!
Preserving the Harvest
It is easy to store winter squash in your pantry to pull out anytime. We have eaten butternut squash from the garden all the way into June of the following year.
If you put garlic in your pantry and some have dried out, make garlic powder. Just process the dried garlic in a coffee or spice grinder. Now you have great flavor to add to burgers, sauces, or steaks.
If you threw your extra tomatoes into the freezer and are now thinking it would be nice to have tomato sauce, canning tomato sauce is simple and easy to do. I use Weck’s canning jars. They are all glass so no worries about what is lining the lid. And they are a really pretty shape.
All you need to can tomato sauce is a large pot, canning jars, a metal funnel, and canning tongs. A pressure canner is not needed for acidic foods like tomatoes. Always follow the recipe as written to insure food safety.
I throw the entire tomato (de-stemmed) into the food processor. Most recipes say to remove the peel and seeds so you don’t have a bitter taste, but I have not noticed any issue with bitterness.
Here is the recipe from Ball’s “Complete Book of Home Preserving” for tomato paste:
9 cups of pureed tomatoes, 1½ cups of chopped sweet bell peppers, 2 bay leaves, 1 teas salt, 1 clove of garlic.
I put it all into a large pot and let simmer until it is the consistency and taste I like, about 2.5 hours. Remove the bay leaves and garlic. Boil the jars, lids, and seals as the sauce is close to done.
Add 3 teas of lemon juice to each hot pint jar, fill with the hot tomato sauce to within ½ inch of the top, and seal the lid, following the instructions for the type of jar you are using. Place all the filled jars in a large pot, insuring they are fully covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 45 minutes. Remove from canner. Let cool. Test the seal after the jar is completely cool. It should not lift off. That’s it!
Other high acid foods you can using a water bath are jams, jellies, condiments, salsas, pickles, and relishes. Consult with a canning book for more tips and be sure to follow the recipe exactly.
Garden Corner Recipe: Herbal Salad Dressings
You can use your fresh herbs to make your own salad dressings to pair with your homegrown greens. Here are a couple we like.
Homemade version of Hidden Valley Ranch is easy to make. Just mix equal amounts of buttermilk, mayonnaise, and sour cream (half cup each). Then add parsley, dill or chives, garlic, dried onion ( ½ teas), salt ( ¼ teas), and pepper ( 1/8 teas) to taste. If the mayonnaise is too overpowering, I substitute yogurt.
Apple mustard vinaigrette is another easy, healthful dressing. Mix together 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots, honey to taste, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil, 2 Tbs water, 2 Tbs country style Dijon mustard, ¾ teas salt, ¼ teas pepper.
Feel free to experiment with different herbs that you like!
For more small space and container gardening ideas, visit my blog at www.victorygardenonthegolfcourse.com.