Fresh in February: 22 Things We’re Eating Right Now from the Family Food Garden


It takes some planning. And, depending on your growing zone, it may take some straw, row covers or cold frames. But it really is possible in most USDA Zones to eat something out of your garden year round.

That’s easy for me to say, I live in Northern California and garden in Zone 9b. So, don’t take my word for it. Grab The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. He’ll tell you everything you need to know to grow through the winter—and he’s farming in Maine!

Peas, Spinach and ParsnipsOur favorite snap pea, ‘Sugar Daddy’, is delicious this time of year, sweet, crisp and productive. It’s growing alongside ‘Catalina’ spinach which is producing a surprising amount of salad greens and stuffing for omelettes. In the bed behind, you can see the tops of parsnips ready for pulling. Get your digging trowel ready though, those roots are deeper than they look.

One of the joys of winter food gardens is that the wet weather waters for you. Try to be sure that you position plants that are sensitive to too much moisture, like these peas, in raised beds with good air circulation around the plants so you don’t have to fight mold for the delicious pods. Even though pea plants will grow happily when crowded, consider spacing the seeds a bit farther apart in the winter to give them good air circulation and also so they are better able to share the available sunlight.

Kale, spinach and collards prefer the cool winter weather. The spinach that I am growing will not do a thing for me in warm weather even when I shade it with tomato plants. But it grows well in the winter and doesn’t fall apart when exposed to a light frost. The ‘Dwarf Siberian’ kale and ‘Vates’ collards actually improve their flavor after exposure to colder temperatures. Most of the red cabbages growing among them have been ripped apart by slugs, but the green cabbages are doing much better and providing us with slaw and sauerkraut galore.

Here are the 22 fresh foods we can eat out of our yard this February:

1. Spinach
2. Mustard Greens
3. Snap Peas, Snow Peas and Shelling Peas
4. Chard
5. Parsnips
6. Cabbage
7. Collards
8. Carrots
9. Rutabagas
10. New Potatoes
11. Beets
12. Fava Beans
13. Arugula
14. Celery
15. Lettuce
16. Radishes
17. Turnips
18. Bok Choi
19. Green Garlic
20. Broccoli
21. Cauliflower
22. Kale

Do you have a favorite winter-grower in your food garden? Let us know about it in the comments section. We’d love to hear what works for you and give it a try next year.

Rainy Weather Redux

Leave a comment

Peas Sprouting

The strong La Niña weather pattern has meant an unusually dry winter for the San Francisco Bay Area and our patch of Zone 9b garden. This is the first year I can remember having to water in January. Most of the rest of the country is waiting for their soil to dry out enough to plant some seeds. I’m out there with a hose every morning making sure the beds are moist enough for seeds to germinate.

But the Weather Woman has promised me another week of rainy weather and I spent the day scrambling to get ready. This is a perfect time to put out the seeds and transplants I have been putting off. Sugar Daddy peas were top on my list, as they often are this time of year.

So far the slugs, birds and squirrels have been getting more than their fair share of our pea sprouts. I started some extra seeds in a flat as insurance for the Alderman and Cascadia patches. I meant to do that with the Sugar Daddy patch I started today, but, halfway through watering in the seeds I realized I was also watering the seed packet and the remaining Sugar Daddy seeds. Since I hadn’t yet built the flat or mixed the flat soil I needed to use to plant them, I decided to use the now wet leftovers to reseed a pea patch that something had chewed on. I also needed to reseed half of the Green Beauty snow pea patch. I’m out of Green Beauty seeds, so I filled in with Golden Sweet snap peas from J. L. Hudson, which I’m excited to try. Hudson’s is a local seed company that doesn’t have a slick catalog or a zippy website, but it looks like many of their seeds are sourced locally so I expect them to be happy in my garden and they got my order here fast. I’m looking forward to trying them out.

All three pea patches are now covered with a layer of rice straw. I have a theory that slugs don’t like to slime their way across straw. Especially if it’s dry straw. I have also had good luck covering my pea sprouts with thin burlap or the kind of netting that onions are sold in. Burlap and straw may hide the apparently delicious smell of peas sprouting from hungry birds and squirrels or be hard for slugs to slime across. I don’t care how it works. I just want my peas safe long enough to get a couple of leaves. That seems to be all it takes before critters stop munching them. If they last long enough to get a couple sets of leaves, I’ve got a very good chance of eventually eating some peas. If the kids don’t get to them first.

Divide and Germinate: Space Planning in the Garden

Leave a comment

Garden ViewI just calculated that we have 1,038 square feet under cultivation in the Dirt to Dinner garden, give or take the odd shaped growing bed here or there. Now, how do I divide that up to see how much of what we have room to grow this year? And how much seed do I start to grow that many square feet of a crop?

Thank goodness at least one engineer was here ahead of me to help figure this stuff out. Maybe if I think this thru I will finally understand how to use all the Master Charts in How to Grow More Vegetables.

Peas are the favorite Spring crop around here. And you can actually get a fair amount of snap or snow peas from a square foot of growing space since you can pick them over several months, or as long as the cool weather holds, which is more likely to be the determining factor for us most years. ‘Sugar Daddy‘ was the top snap pea producer in our 2009 Pea Trials, so let’s start there. Sugar Daddy peas need 7-10 days for germination and another 60 days to flower and mature the first pods. If they go in Feb 1st, that makes ten weeks later we’ll have out first peas, around April 12th. In an average year, whatever that is, Zone 9b would have six more weeks of favorable pea weather to enjoy before we could expect the daytime highs to get too high for pea pollen to do it’s thing.

Peas under cageSo, how many peas do we want to eat over that six weeks? Sugar Daddy peas are really best eaten straight off the vine, but a light steaming and some butter work too. I don’t intend to can or freeze them, so we only need to calculate what we actually want to eat fresh. My notes from 2009 look like we grazed over at least four square feet of pea vines to get a family ‘serving’ for a day. In good weather, three or four days later, there were enough new peas to pick those same plants again. So, each four square feet of snap peas could give us two ‘servings’ a week. If we’d like twice that I better put in eight square feet of snap peas, maybe ten to allow for slug damage would be safer. Add to that a couple square feet of snow peas and another four square feet of Alderman shelling peas and we’re up to sixteen square feet of peas.

Easy, right? Mark that on my handy spreadsheet garden plan. Now, just 1,022 square feet to go.

Leeks, Sweet Potatoes and When is Spring?

1 Comment

I started some sweet potatoes in Ball jars on the window sill to grow slips for planting later this spring. I used three sweet potatoes from the cupboard but I can’t tell you which varieties they are yet. I don’t imagine there are very many varieties in local commercial production so it should be easy to narrow down. I’ll ask around and see what I can figure out.

I also quickly started some leek seeds for the Dirt to Dinner kids to plant now that I have finally grasped the difference between summer leeks and winter leeks. I am using Sherwood Leeks from last year’s Seeds of Change seed donation for the summer planting. I hope they sprout. They were packed for 2007 so I planted about a third more seed than I actually wanted in case germination is spotty. I’ve read that onion seeds don’t keep well and these have been through less than ideal storage conditions since they arrived.

The big news here is that the Principe Borghese tomato seeds I planted on Christmas are sprouting! When I saw the first sprout I popped one of the few remaining dried tomatoes from last year’s crop into my mouth just so I could taste them again. I can already hear the dehydrator whirring. ;-)

The Cincinnati Market radishes are also sprouting nicely in a sheltered bed in the garden. I grew up in Cincinnati, so as soon as I saw them in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog I knew I had to grow them. I hope they taste good. I guess I can always pickle them if we don’t like them raw in salads. I would probably devour small disks of cardboard if they were pickled well.

Today was also the day for the first of the All Red and Red Gold potatoes to start heading into the soil. I think the problem with last year’s All Blue crop was that the plants didn’t have enough room. We only gave them roughly a square foot each because we were using a deep bed for planting. But this spacing produced lots of very small blue potatoes, which tells me the plants were too crowded horizontally in spite of the extra space we gave them along the vertical.

The reds are getting three square feet a piece–eventually. Right now there are Sugar Daddy snap peas planted in between the potato rows. Hopefully this won’t crowd them. The peas should be grown and out of the way by the time the potato plants need the space and the soil hilling gets deeper. Well, that’s the idea anyway.

Pea Trials Year 2

Leave a comment
Pea pod in hand

Fall Wando Success

This year, rather than start the Pea Trial in January, I decided it might be worth while to try growing different varieties right through the winter. I started with a shelling pea that I always see mentioned along with it’s resistance to heat, Wando, and planted it on August 13th. I figured it had the best chance with our fall weather. Maybe it was just luck, but we have been eating peas in the garden from this small test patch since October right into December. Frost got some of them, but the plant has put out new flowers and started over.

In mid-September some of the Dirt to Dinner kids and I planted two more test patches of peas. One side is Cascadia snap peas and the other is Oregon Sugar Pod snow peas. Pea plantingThese have also survived the three or four frost days and the winter winds. If it gets too cold though, the pods on the vine are ruined. But we pick them off and toss them into the compost and the plant puts out more flowers. I put in a test patch of Thomas Laxton peas on October 31st but as soon as I thought it was safe to take the burlap off of them (11/15) the patch was decimated by whatever evil critter out there chews the leaves off all the sprouting vines. I have to remember that in the Dirt to Dinner garden peas planted directly in the soil need protection until they are well established.

We also have another small patch of Petit Pois peas put in on November 12th with starts from Yamagami’s in Cupertino.

These diminutive peas are authentic French petit pois and are ever so sweet, ready to use at miniature size, when the slim pods are just 3” to 4” long. Each pod contains six or seven tiny peas, less than half the size of regular shelling peas. Their buttery flavor and tenderness cannot be matched! Plentifully produces petit pois on disease-resistant, 18” to 24” vines. These small, delicate vines need support.

Block planted Petit Pois

Petit Pois Perfect

The plants are still pretty petite right now at the end of December. I haven’t seen any flowers develop but they are shaded by a massive tomato plant I was trying to winter over. Not sure that experiment is going to be worth the space or potential shade cast though. The tomato is a very unhappy grey-green right now that does not bode well. Maybe I will cut it back to whatever looks healthy and green and give the poor peas some more sunlight. I’ll check their color more closely when the rain lets up.

On Christmas, which was a gorgeous gardening day here, I put in about 50 Sugar Daddy snap pea seeds, under covers and started another 30 in the garage as back-up just in case those get destroyed. In January I plan to do some of the Italian pea varieties we liked from the trial last year and I swear there is a packet of Laxton’s Progress peas around here somewhere that are waiting to be planted. If only I could remember what I did with them!