Archive for the ‘Winter Veg’ Category

Forcing Belgian Endive


It’s time. Time for a mid-winter salad crop from the cellar. Time to force some roots.

The not-so-nice-looking item in the photo is one of the many roots in the cellar from the 2010 harvest of Witloof Chicory. There’s two bins of these guys – grown on our small city lot aside other root veg. No, no they don’t look tasty, but the creamy white belgian endive you may recognize will be. Or at least I hope it will be.

You get to that belgian endive state by planting a crop the year before, harvesting the roots of the leafy and too-bitter-to-eat chicory, and then forcing the sturdy roots to sprout again by exposing them to cool, not cold conditions – the blanched sprout being the prize. That’s a long process. Key here is to keep them in the dark too – or the result will simply be bitter green sprouts. What I’m looking for is a white ‘chicon’ forming at the crown of each root. Apparently, once harvested, subsequently smaller sprouted treasures will form. The root, once used fully, ends up in the compost.

This is my first go at this, and it’s been an important project to me. We live pretty far north, and the prospect of having a ‘freshly grown’ crunchy salad ‘green’ available through the winter is exciting – a welcome addition to cabbage and root-veg slaws. More on this as it progresses.

The End of the 2010 Allium


First major root cellared crop of the 2010 harvest has finally bit the dust: the allium family. Kept fine, we simply consumed more than we produced. I had cellared Copra & Red Long of Tropea onions, shallots, a garlic of unknown variety [purply, strong cultivar], and Giant of Musselburgh and Pandora leeks. The onions, shallots and garlic stored just fine a few layers deep in a shallow box. The leeks I dug up soil-and-all and plopped them into a plastic pail. I’ll store both the same way next year, as perishability was not my problem, eat-too-many was my problem. Solution: grow more. In fact, had they simply grown to even a medium size last year, we likely would have been good for another couple months – but they were all pretty small. So I suppose that really leaves me with two solutions: grow more, or grow them bigger…somehow.

Sadly, the next major crop to fall from inventory will be our potatoes. Hence my recent interest in local grains. Still, they’ll make it to mid-February, and may even see the light of March – the month where robust herbs and the allium family start to show the first green of the year around here.

Make no mistake, this story is in fact a happy one. Last I checked, it’s February next week. So in year one of root cellaring our garden veg, with a good portion of the gardens yet to be productive, we’re going to make it to spring. That’s a 25-meter-diet of organically raised veg requiring negligible cash-output stored passively for months with zero energy input costs. That’s pretty darn cool.

Some interesting math: Our lot size is 115x48ft. 5520 sq ft. There are 43560 sq ft to an acre, which puts our city lot at 12.7% of an acre – extremely close to 1/8th. Take out about 1300 sq feet for the footprints of our home and garage, and we’re left with about 9% of an acre, or less than 1/10th. Can we produce enough fruit and veg for our family of 5, year round, on that little land? Getting closer every year, and I’m confident it can be done.

Making Peace with the North


I have recently had a realization regarding living in a northerly climate: the north gifts us the ability to store food passively. Living in the north can feel like a shortcoming when it comes to short growing seasons and lack of heat, but increasingly my food adventures are teaching me that cold is key to many wonderful food-things, root cellaring veg included.

I’m still trying to get my head around root veg cellaring. It really can’t be this simple, can it? Well into the end of December, and the root veg in the photo were the only veg required for last night’s dinner. Carrot slaw, mashed potato with chevre, and 9-hr roasted beets. When the new year rings in, I’ll be a happy man not because I enjoy new year’s, but because I’ll have achieved reaching January with a cellar full of garden veg in my first year of giving it a go. At this rate, reaching spring with at least some remaining garden veg doesn’t seem like an unrealistic goal – which, if achieved, will make a wholesale change on the food culture in our family. The hardiness and storability characteristics of the veg and fruit themselves will decide when we eat what, which I always find rewarding – but perhaps more importantly, we will be vastly closer to producing all the veg, fruit, and herbs we need  on our simple, small, northerly city lot.

Something to think about: if preserving is trendy anew, root cellaring should easily dominate canning in our time-scarce society. I’m with Eliot Coleman – forget hot water canning in the heat, I’m all over letting my northerly weather keep fresh veg happy through the winter. Zero energy cost. Zero jar-packing-and-canning or freezing. Fresh food. Genius.

Root Cellar Update: December Garden Veg


Well. Success. I’m very grateful that the principles of cellaring are not rocket science or prohibitively expensive. This is my first winter with a functioning root cellar for veg – built in a corner of my conventional concrete basement – and every last item in there is providing valuable education for how to manage my cellar moving forward.

So here I am, in December, with snow on the ground, and a good spell of -30C already behind us, and we’re still eating away at our garden produce. So what did we put up? How are the stores doing? I’m hoping to update monthly to advocate for this form of preservation, and hopefully reset some expectations surrounding eating local produce year round, grown on a small city lot. Ambitious? Perhaps.

Biggest surprises? I still have kale in my fridge from the late November harvest. I had read that putting leeks, dirt and all, in a bucket in the cellar is effective for keeping them. Success on that front. I only put up a bucket for testing out the theory – next year more will go this route. My box of  onions of various varieties and garlic are in awesome shape. I have a 5 gal pail of beets in sand, 3 bins of carrots in sand, 2 bins of Belgian endive roots in sand [to force for winter greens whites], about a third of a bin of potatoes [clearly need to grow more next year], 5 cases + of apple wine, horseradish, pickles and fruit syrups/jellies.

Optimal? No. A successful first year? Yes. We’ll see where we are in January.

Carrots in bins of sand - 3 bins remaining.

Pickled Carrots - many quarts left.

Potatoes - mostly french fingerling and norland left

Apple wine from our Red Sparkle tree - 5+ cases

Horseradish, both in sand, and in bags. The bagged ones are doing better.

Highbush Cranberry Syrup...failed jelly, but still useful.

Forono Beets - this one's limpish, but others below felt firm

Witloof Chicory roots in bins of sand, to be forced