Secret to winter greens in the picking

Dec. 9, 2011

Secret to perfect organic winter greens is in the picking

The secret to growing perfect organic winter greens is quite simple: In addition to good soil, and keeping plants covered when it’s frosty, is to be selective in picking.
It’s tempting, when looking at a profusion of greens, to just pick the biggest leaves, but that’s ultimately self-defeating. Greens such as mustards, collards, lettuces and various brassicas, grow from the center out. Consequently, the older leaves are on the outside.
If you look carefully at your greens, say your collards, you will notice there are probably several wilted or unhealthy looking leaves either close to – or lying on – the ground and are still connected to the plant. Pull them off.
Just toss them away, so they decompose back into the soil, but not so close as to keep bugs that aid in their decomposition near your plant.
Go through your patch and start picking from the bottom. Some of these leaves will be perfectly fine for eating. Others won’t, but that’s OK. We’re wanting to get back on track with keeping plants healthy and thriving.
Think of it as pruning a plant, like a rose bush or other ornamental. You are carefully removing leaves that sap the vitality of the plant. Remember to pick using your thumbnail and first finger, pinching off the leaf cleanly. That helps the stem to quickly heal, allowing the plant to put energy instead into new leaves.
You will quickly find that in previous pickings you probably overlooked most of the leaves on the outside of the plant. That’s OK. Greens are quite resilient.
What will happen once you remove old or diseased leaves from the outside and bottom of the plants and continue to pick the leaves from the outside, is that the plants will put their energy into producing new leaves from the center even more vigorously.
If all goes well, you will notice the greens are growing tall, thick stalks, and the leaves from the center are growing more quickly and are larger than before. The plant is getting more established (going down, up and out) and is concentrating its energy on producing leaves – food for you!
If you’re lucky, the plants will continue to produce into spring before warmer temperatures prompt them to bolt – or produce flowers and seeds for regeneration.
This way of picking greens is not the way big agricultural outfits do it. They plant the plants, then when they reach a certain size, they just cut them all down. That’s why you see stalks as well as leaves when buying greens in the grocery.
But if you want to have sweet, tender, prolific greens all winter, be selective in picking: a leaf here, a leaf there, thanking the plant for providing you with nourishment. The plant will reward you, gladly!

Great book, just out: I recently received one of the best garden books I’ve read this year: The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm by Peg Schafer(Chelsea Green; $34.95). It’s subtitle tells why I like it so much: “A Cultivator’s Guide to Small-Scale Organic Herb Production.”
Not only does the book give great descriptions and photos of herbs, but short histories of them, ways to grow them, good companion plants, medicinal uses (not limited to Chinese medicine but Ayurvedic and other), along with garden tips and recommended reading.
Schafer writes that she became a commercial herb gardener by accident, literally. After a minor auto accident, she started having acupuncture to help her heal and taking Chinese medicinal herbs. But she found that the holistic approach was not only healing her physical injuries but other longterm issues. Her acupuncturist suggested she grow her own herbs, since she found them so healing, and so she started out as a “backyard farmer.”
That developed into the 10-acre Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm of Petaluma, Calif.
The book is the fruit of her knowledge, so to speak. It’s a great gift.

Foodies, online: Just out: If you want to impress your foodie friends with a truly unique holiday gift, try a gift basket of Muir Glen Reserve tomatoes. Yep, a “reserve” canned tomato! Each year chosen in secrecy, produced under a chef, hand picked, hand sorted, organic California tomatoes with limited amounts offered during the holiday season. ($10 plus $5 shipping.) Check it out: http://www.muirglen.com

The 2012 North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar by Maria & Matthias Thun is now available for those who like to plant by the moon.
This original biodynamic sowing and planting calendar is now in its 50th year. It shows the optimum days for sowing, pruning and harvesting various plants and crops, as well as working with bees. Great gift for gardener who has everything. Price: $13.95
It’s available from the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association: http://bit.ly/uOCs7B

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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