Gillian Flower, ND
Changing our diets with the changing of the seasons is a way to connect ourselves with the cycles of the natural world around us. Seeking out locally-grown seasonal foods, or, better yet, eating them straight from our gardens, adds variety and vitality to our menus.
There’s something that feels right about eating in season. Changing our diets with the
changing of the seasons is a way to connect ourselves with the cycles of the natural world around us. Seeking out locally-grown seasonal foods, or, better yet, eating them straight from our gardens, adds variety and vitality to our menus.
As the cool weather approaches, seasonal eating may feel like more of a challenge. If you have discovered the joys of winter gardening, you know that the harvest doesn’t end with the first frost. Even if you don’t live in a temperate climate, there are many common vegetables that can be harvested throughout the winter.
Root vegetables are classic winter fare. They are frequently the main event at the winter dinner table, providing comfort, warmth, and rich flavours. And while root vegetables tolerate cold storage well, Mother Nature’s own storage works even better. Many root veggies are best after a frost, and leaving them in the chilly ground concentrates the sugars in the plant and improves flavour.
Beets, carrots, and rutabagas can be harvested after a few frosts, or even from beneath a layer of snow, while parsnips can be left all winter until the spring thaw. Spring parsnips are reputed to have unmatched sweetness—an early reward for next spring’s labours. Applying a mulch to your root vegetables will protect those that shoulder their way up out of the ground.
Cruciferous greens are also cold-weather fans, providing the vitamins and iron that our bodies crave through the cold months. The vitamin C in Brussels sprouts is highest when the temperature is around 0 C, and many gardeners leave them through at least a couple of frosts to mellow their flavour. Kale can be eaten after the snow flies in many regions, sweetening with frost as the plant produces sugars that act as a natural anti-freeze. Kale should be mulched when the ground freezes, allowing this hardy green to over-winter and provide an early spring harvest of tender leaves.
If space permits, a cold frame is an ideal complement to the winter garden. These glass-and-wood structures enable gardeners to extend the growing season, functioning as mini-greenhouses. Depending on the conditions, you may be able to employ cold frames all season to grow collards, Swiss chard, and bush peas.
Eating in season means more than simply choosing from what is available from the garden at any given moment. Plan ahead and count on storage-tolerant vegetables like squash, roots, tubers, and onions to grace your winter table. Canning, pickling, and drying your summer harvest will let you enjoy your garden’s gifts year-round.
Plan for your winter garden by doing several plantings throughout the growing season. Depending on the zone and conditions affecting your garden, you may have quite an impressive winter harvest. Some gardeners in the more temperate parts of Canada see an almost uninterrupted yield from their gardens, continuously planting to harvest a few months later.
The beginning of winter does not have to mean the end of fresh, home-grown foods. Planning your winter harvest will allow you to eat seasonal and delicious foods year-round.