The Year in Review: My P-Patch Garden

Well, it’s official. I am wrapping up a full year as a Seattle P-Patch gardener. The P-Patches here in Seattle are a network of 88 organic community gardens dotted throughout the city. Operated by the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the gardens have a legacy that dates back to about 1973 when the first one was started at Picardo Farm.

My little one-hundred square foot garden is located at the Haller Lake P-Patch, which is in North Seattle and only  stone’s throw from I-5. Located in a quiet corner of a church parking lots, it’s been a delightful oasis and experiment for me this last year.

I’ve messed around with inter planting, growing small garden varieties, companion planting, succession planting and a whole lot more.  Inspired by some vintage  U.S. Government Victory Garden booklets that I found at an estate sale, I inter planted aggressively, pulled plants once they were totally spent, and replanted something new shortly thereafter in order to keep the produce coming. The rewards and yields were  massive considering the tight quarters.

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Some of the items, such as beets, peas, kales, chards and carrots were planted directly in the beds. Other things like Savoy cabbages, yellow pear tomatoes, and Red Iceberg lettuce were put in as starter plants purchased at the nursery.  In mid June some items like winter kale and Brussels sprouts were started by seed at home and when transplanted to my P-Patch, simply tucked under the tomato plants. I figured the loftier tomato plants would protect the little starts from harsh summer sun and heat.

The garden organizers at my P-Patch keep telling us that we have til October 31 to plant our beds for the winter or simply clean them up, mulch them and let them take a snooze til spring. This year, I’ve opted to plant mine with cold weather varieties such as elephant garlic, kales, chards, rutabagas, purple kale, Nordic Brussel sprouts, and winter carrots.  I wasn’t able to have a winter garden in  my plot last year simply because I got my plot too late in the season. I’ve had a winter garden at home every year for about two decades now but I am really excited to push the proverbial limit and see what I can get in a SMALL space winter garden! Now, that’s a victory!

Stay tuned…and stay warm!

Wnter Garden October 2016.JPG

Warm up to Winter Salads!

Let’s face it.  Salad doesn’t get a lot of press during the dark days of winter. For sure it’s the stews, chowders and chilis that hog the limelight for much of the colder months of the year.

That being said, I still eat salad during the winter and the fact of the matter is that I simply craft my winter salads differently than my summer ones. In the summer, tender refreshing cucumbers, homegrown tomatoes, aromatic basil and light dressings rule the roost.

During January and February, I sharpen my chef’s knife and hunker down to use heartier produce like cabbage, kale, chard, carrots, red onions, apples, and pears. Over the years, I’ve learned that a winter salad can be downright satisfying when dressed with a more robust dressing and served with a warm soup.

Here are some tips on how to create and compose a satisfying winter salad:

Use the Boxed Mixed Lettuces as a Base

During the winter, I can’t grow enough lettuce to meet my  family’s salad needs so I rely on the large boxes of mixed organic greens or spinach sold at Sam’s and Costco. These lettuces offer tons of convenience because they are pre washed and make a solid foundation for building my salad. To prevent the greens from going mushy, I’ve learned to pull some out of the big  box and store them in separate plastic bag. By aerating and fluffing the greens I find that the greens keep better overall.

 

Winter Salad Kale Chard 2016Go for Color

We all need more color in our lives during the winter months so when you start to plan a winter salad, seriously consider adding items like red cabbage, dark green kale, or colorful chard. The trick to using these sturdier brassicas is to sharpen your knife and slice them thinly. This can take some practice but it makes a huge difference. When working with chard or kale, stack the leaves, roll them up like a cigar and slice them crosswise, which will result in an array of thin ribbons. As for cabbage, cut the head into smaller manageable hunks and slice thinly over the leaves.

Add Some Crunch

Create some crunch by adding croutons, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and even chow mein noodles. This might seem like an obvious tip but items like sunflower and pumpkin seeds can add a significant nutritional boost and a welcome nutty flavor that complement the whole shebang.

Winter salad wooden bowl 2016

Get a Big Bowl and Toss

Don’t underestimate the power of a big wooden salad bowl and an energetic salad toss. Yes, you can make a salad in a small bowl but during the winter months it’s a lot more fun to do it in a large bowl. After all, all of the winter salad ingredients are more robust than those found in a summer salad and they can certainly take the heat of a few hefty heave hos with the salad tongs. Furthermore, the added value of using a big bowl is that the salad dressing gets distributed more evenly and you thus have to use less salad dressing!