Thoughts on a Winter Garden

We’ve certainly taken the plunge into juicy winter. So far it’s come gently. The persimmons still glow on the branches, but the leaves have all dropped off in this slow but persistent rain.

The garden season is complete now, and the beds are mulched or sprouting their soil-holding cover crops. All that remains to eat in my own garden are some hardy herbs like parsley, sage and thyme. We’ll see if we get a cold enough winter to stop their slow growth, but right now I can still go out and snip little aromatic sprigs to liven up cold weather dishes. I’ve planted many many bulbs for spring bouquets, already filling the vases in my mind with dainty fragrant jonquils and extravaganzas of flaming parrot tulips. There is still time for getting more in. The one last garden task to complete, and you can do it too, clear up until Christmas, is to plant some garlic.

Garlic is a bulb too, a member of the lily family, and such an easy crop to grow, whether you plant a whole row or just a few tucked around the rose bushes. I say roses, because it is rumored that garlic and its pretty cousin the chive help keep aphids away from them.Just pick a well-drained spot, loosen up the soil and add some compost or aged manure. Buy one or more of the nicest, shapeliest, firmest California-grown heads of garlic you can find: organic is best in case something was applied to keep them from sprouting. After pulling the cloves apart, you plant each one 6 to 8 inches apart with 2 inches of soil over the top. The pointy end goes up. Then mulch over the top to protect the soil and your garlic crop is in. Nothing more to do except to keep it free from competing weeds (water if necessary), and harvest next July, just in time to blend it with the first fragrant basil leaves.

Speaking of garlic, one of our favorite cold weather dishes is Roasted Roots. Combine cut-up peeled vegetables ( I like a mixture of potatoes, winter squash and beets, or carrots, parsnips and potatoes) with as many peeled garlic cloves as you like.You can also add chunks of leek, celery, yam or fennel bulbs. Toss them with fruity olive oil to lightly coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and chopped rosemary or thyme, and spread out in a single layer in a big baking pan. Bake, stirring occasionally, until tender and browned, about 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees. Give thanks for roots and tubers!!

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