Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The gift of cold in late April

Right now, Houstonians probably feel like they've entered nuclear winter.  We saw a record low temperature of 39 degrees this past weekend, and once again this morning, a butt-kicking cold front is blasting through. 

It's been bad news for basil, which requires consistent temperatures above 50 degrees in order to grow properly.
That splotchy, yellowish leaf coloration?  Not good.  This is sweet basil.  Other varieties such as African Blue are better at surviving cold weather, but I find they don't taste as good in recipes. 
Fortunately for us, I had two cruciferous starts just kicking around, left over from the winter planting interval, and I decided to pop them into the soil this spring just as an experiment (if nothing else, maybe for those local not-quite-killer bees).
If you ignore the volunteer tomato growing up among them, this is how they unexpectedly turned out. 
I harvested this perfect 4.5-pounder last week!  In greater Houston in mid-April! To put that in context, I harvested its litter-mates in late January.  In normal weather conditions, this kind of a result would not likely happen in April, but this year, we've had enough cold weather (especially cold nights) to keep these things healthy through to maturity.   
The broccoli weighed in at 2 pounds, so I ended up with a total of 6.5 pounds of organic food here from two seed starts that I normally would have discarded.  Bonus.
If you look carefully at my harvested cauliflower, you'll see that I do something different than commercial growers:  I allow it to advance to a more mature state before I harvest it.  The individual florets separate and spread with increasing age as it prepares to bolt, and harvesting at that stage allows for easier division into sub-bite-sized pieces.  Those pieces, by virtue of their manageability and the very mild, unobtrusive taste which is derived from the home-grown organic method, can then be shoe-horned into a wide variety of recipes as a significant nutritional augmentation.  In this photo above, I'm boiling some white rice, but I'm adding finely-divided cauliflower pieces to it.  White rice by itself is primarily an energy food with a high glycemic index.  Augmenting it with cauliflower helps to round out its nutritional profile. 

If instead you buy cauliflower from mainstream grocery stores, you'll see that it's been harvested at an earlier, less-developed stage of growth.  It's essentially a giant dense lump, and more difficult to chop into uniform small pieces.    
I'll close with a link to this interesting piece that describes, from the perspective of several nursery owners (one of whom is an urban Houstonian), just how much the residential vegetable-growing consumer base has expanded in the past five years.  I'm an old fart who falls into the "always wanted to do this but never got around to it until recently" category of home gardener, but many young people are taking this practice very seriously as an assumed component of their lifestyles.  That bodes well for future creativity and idea-sharing. 

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