It’s winter vegetable harvest time, and we hope to make it a holiday tradition.
The long awaited snow and winter cold has finally arrived in Southwest Colorado, but our lush garden in the 15′ Growing Dome continues to produce yummy, nutrient-rich greens. The longer season crops we planted in October are also coming along nicely, and we should have some broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage and maybe even some quinoa to harvest sometime early in the spring.
Since all of our greens are thriving, we have elected to use a “cut and come back for more” method of harvesting so we can continue to enjoy the bounty. This week, we took home a whole bunch of arugula, chard, spinach and some turnip greens. When harvesting each of these, we carefully selected leaves for taste and made sure to cut above the growing point of each plant, so more leaves will be ready to harvest in just a few short weeks.
The growing point of leafy green vegetables such as chard, arugula, spinach and turnip greens is easily visible. It is the point where the newest leaves are emerging. At the growing point, you will observe small leaves, generally at the center of the plant, just beginning to grow. This particular part of the plant is identified as the shoot apical meristem, which gives rise to leaves and eventually flowers. Since we want to encourage our plants to keep producing leaves, we are very careful not to damage this growing point so we can keep enjoying fresh salads! If we were to accidentally remove the growing point of any of these plants, the leaves we just harvested were attached at the base of their stems. The really wonderful thing about all of these greens is that the more you harvest, the more they produce.
Arugula is a member of the Brassica family and its distinct spicy flavor, also described by some as bitter or peppery, comes from the chemical Glucosinolate. As home garden arugula varieties mature, the leaves develop a more pungent flavor, which is why many who prefer a mild flavor continually harvest arugula when it’s leaves are small. Arugula can withstand heavy harvesting, and a gardener can take up to 1/3 of its foliage in one cutting. It also grows quickly, and can be ready to harvest in just a couple of short weeks. This spicy green contains high amounts of vitamins A, C and Potassium and grows wonderfully in the Growing Dome no matter what the season.
The Growing Spaces team has planted two varieties of chard this season, bright lights and white chard variety. Chards are a member of the same family as beets and spinach, the Goosefoot family or subfamily of Amaranthaceae, and grow to a mature height of between one and two feet. Since chard has a low growing point, leaves can be harvested to within a couple inches of the soil and the plant will continue to produce new growth. Young chard leaves make a great addition to a salad, and larger greens can be added to sir fry, soups and even pasta dishes. Chard is an especially good source of vitamins A and C and another one of the most productive winter crops you can grow in a Growing Dome.
Spinach is a hardy cool season green that can withstand even temperatures below freezing depending on the variety. All of the greens we’ve planted are frost hardy, and the Growing Dome insulates so well that we don’t really worry about freezing nights! Unlike chard and arugula, spinach produces new growth in a rosette pattern, making the growing point extremely easy to see at it’s center. Spinach leaves can be harvested when the plant has five or more mature leaves. Similarly to arugula, the smaller leaves are sweeter and more tender. This hardy green contains high amounts of iron and vitamin C and can be added to smoothies frozen or fresh. Since spinach leaves can spoil quickly, it’s a good idea to sauté or steam the greens and then freeze them for later use if you plan to harvest a large amount.
Did you know you can do so much more with fresh greens than make a salad? Of course, fresh salad in winter is a luxury, but greens like arugula, chard, spinach and turnip greens can also be used in stir fry, added to hearty winter soups and even blended up into your favorite smoothie for an added boost of nutrition!
So, cozy up by the fire this winter with a big bowl of fresh, crisp salad or a warming soup and give thanks for a continued bountiful harvest. Happy holidays to all, and to all a good bite.