Prepare Beds Now for Spring

 Yesterday, I noticed that my narcissus were beginning to poke up.  This is a reminder to me that spring is on its way.  December is typically a slow time in the yupneck’s garden.  However, this year, I actually have a lot to do to get ready for spring.  Because I built the picket fence I now have the opportunity to put in a lot of new beds.  Since I do things organically, now is the perfect time for me to start preparing these future beds. 

Weeds are a real problem for me.  Through much experience I have developed an integrated approach to weed control (you can read all about this in an article I have written for the upcoming March issue of Texas Gardener magazine).  The first step in this program is preparation.  Now preparation means a lot of different things to different people.  To me, it means defining where the bed is going to be and then killing everything that is growing in that area.  I kill my weeds in two ways; smothering or solarizing.

Here I am using a sheet of plywood to smother my weeds. the plywood is secured with hadite tiles. this photo was taken by Ramez Antoun.

Smothering is the process of placing an opaque material over vegetaion.  It works by depriving the plants of the water and light they need to survive.  Since smothering involves using a heavy material (that wont blow away) like plywood or Hardie plank, I only use it in relatively small areas.  If I want to kill a bigger swath of weeds, I use solarization.

Solarizing involves wetting the soil, covering it with a translucent material and securing the edges of that material so no heat escapes.  I use 6 mil poly.  Solarizing  allows the sun’s heat to raise the temperature in the air gap to a level that “cooks” the weeds to death.  Since it is winter, and not as many hot days are available, I put out my poly about a month ago.  This will give the sun four months to kill my weeds before I create the beds in the spring.  If you solarize in the summer, you can get by with a two month solarization window. 

Solarizing a bed on the back side of the picket fence. Photo bt Ramez Antoun.

Both of these methods have been very effective for me.  So, if you are going to put in a new bed in the Spring, and you are looking for an organic way to get control of your weeds early, now is the time to get started.  A little work now will make your weeds much less of a headache in the future.

Cooking Up A Mess Of Greens

Cooking greens is one of my favorite fall and winter activities.  I can’t wait for the first good

A mess of collards on the stove with smoked pork

cold snap so I can go out to my garden and bring in a “mess of greens”.  I grow and cook collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, kale and chard.  While cooking up a “mess of greens” is thought of as a Southern tradition, it is beginning to catch on all across the country.  The health benefits associated with “greens” are encouraging both professional and amateur chef’s to add these traditionally Southern treats to their regular menus.  Here’s how I do it.

I wait until after the first frost to harvest my greens.  The freeze is supposed to remove some of the bitterness.  For my first harvest, I cut a few stalks from each of the plants.  I then bring them in, strip the leaves from the stalks and wash them. After they are good and clean, I set them aside and proceeded to make a stock. This stock is often called pot liquor (or pot likker) and it is what makes the greens taste amazing.

Collards from the potager served with our homemade pepper sauce

To make the stock, I chopped up one whole yellow onion and four pieces of thick cut bacon. I cook the bacon and onions until the onions become soft.  If you have some vegetarians in the house (as I often do), substitute three tablespoons of EVOO for the bacon.  Next, add three cups of water and 1 teaspoon (tsp) salt, 1 tsp Zattaran’s Cajun spice and fresh ground black pepper to taste.  Bring it all to a boil. Let it boil for about 3 minutes then reduce it to simmer and cover.

While the stock is simmering I put another big pot of water on to boil. I fill this pot half full of water and add 1 tablespoon (tbsp) of salt. While this is coming to a boil, I take a small handful of greens and roll them up like a cigar. I cut the roll into about 1/2” strips. Once the green are all cut up I add them to the rapidly boiling salt water. I boil them for three minutes and then pour off the water. This removes some of the bitterness associated with the greens. Finally, I added the drained greens to the stock and let them simmer for an hour. OMG!!!!! These things are wonderful.

Country As A Turnip Green

Turnips from my potager

If you listen to Mark Chestnut’s song “Daddy’s Money” you will discover that his girlfriend is “country as a turnip green”.  Well, if liking turnip greens makes you country then I am definitely “country”.  I love turnips and I love their greens (fresh and cooked).  They taste great and they are good for you.  The root is high in vitamin C and the greens are loaded with vitamins A, C, K and calcium.  How many other vegetables do you know that can provide you with two sides for a single meal?   

People (and not just country people) have been enjoying turnips (Brassica rappa) for a very long time.  The Romans loved them.  Since they were a staple of the Roman diet, we can surmise that they have been in cultivation for well over 2000 years.  They were also staples in the Irish diet long before the potato arrived.  The tradition of the “jack-o-lantern” started with the turnip.  Legend says that an Irish thief named Jack tricked the devil out of taking his soul.  When Jack died, he was too sinful to go to heaven but, because of his deal with the devil, he couldn’t go to hell either.  So, he was cursed to wander in darkness forever.  On All Hallow’s Eve, the Irish would carve out a turnip and place a small candle or ember inside to help this crafty folk hero find his way to the after life.

Turnips are very easy to grow.  Around September, I plant my first row of turnips.  I add

A two course meal

another row in October and still another in November.  This will keep me in turnips and greens right up until March.  To plant, I dig a shallow furrow with a long screw driver, scatter the seeds, cover and water.  Within a few days, they sprout.  In fact, so many little plants pop up that I am convinced they have about a 110% germination rate!  Once the true leave form, I start thinning them to about 4” apart.  Their thick, green, leafy tops make a very attractive border in my potager. 

You can eat every part of the turnip.  The young greens add a sharp taste to fall salads.  The more mature greens are wonderful cooked (if you like greens) and the root tastes an awful lot like a potato (with a little extra zip).  Because of our nation’s new found interest in healthy living, turnips and turnip greens are enjoying renewed popularity.  Many top restaurants (not just Southern restaurants either) now regularly serve greens to their well healed customers.  I have even seen bunches of turnips and their greens for sale at Whole Foods.  At this rate, greens won’t be just for country folk much longer!

If you would like to see how I prepare my greens, be sure to read the next post.