A Little Salad From My Backyard Winter Garden

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-3-38-01-pmJust made myself a salad with ingredients from my (very) small backyard garden. In fact it’s really just a few pots with lettuce, parsley and scallions / green onions.  I added some flaxseed meal and a side of potato salad, but the greens came from the yard!

When there is fresh food growing just outside the door, it’s hard to choose NOT to eat it.  After all, it took work to plant it and care for it, so why not enjoy it as often as possible?  Plus I am lucky enough to still have food growing in January!  I am in Florida now, and I have to constantly remind myself that it IS winter…. in other places.

Floridians believe it is winter here.  When the temps plummet to 60 degrees they put on their heavy hoodies, tied tightly around their heads as they head out to walk the dogs.  What?  I wave to them as I stand there in my capris and t-shirt and then I turn and laugh.  My blood will thin out again too, and one day I will think 60 is cold… I guess.  For now, the icy cold of a January day in New Hampshire is still fresh in my mind.

Back to garden talk.  I know that planting season is coming soon down here in Florida, and I am stressing a bit because my raised bed is not filled with dirt.  BUT, a friend made a suggestion, which I may do because it seems easier than trying to buy a load of dirt and move it into the container.  I also have a sprinkler system to worry about crushing.  If I decide to try the “new way of gardening” I’ll share it in a soon-to-come post.

For now I am enjoying my greens.  I can’t wait for the citrus (lemons and limes) to grow.  Fresh lemonade would go well with this meal!

Making the Raised Garden Bed

I’ve been in my new house for a couple of months now.  We’ve made headway, but after spending money for a new HVAC system and a new dishwasher, money is getting tight.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the yard, and the position of the sun, to figure out the best spots for my raised garden beds.  Because Florida soil is mostly sand, dumping good, organic soil into a box may be the best way to begin a garden.

The other day, spur of the moment, my son went out and bought some pine wood and made this raised garden bed! He read some “how to’s” online and then bought everything and put it together (with the help of his younger brother). I think it’s great! It’s made of pine boards and is about 18 inches high.  (See this raised bed, full of dirt and plants, in May 2018)

pine wood raised bed
Raised Garden Bed

Getting dirt into the bed may be a challenge. We have a sprinkler system and a drainage area around the front of the house. It’s a bit like a dry moat which won’t allow for a vehicle to drive over. My son can fill his truck with garden dirt but it will have to be shoveled into a wheelbarrow and dumped into the raised bed. (Read my solution to this problem on this post.)

My parsley and lettuce in the small box is doing well. If I had a bigger garden this time of year (December) I would be planting peas, onions, spinach and kale. Hopefully by next year this garden bed will be ready.

parsley and lettuce
Cool weather crops in a small garden box

I use my beautiful parsley daily by adding it to my omelets, homemade salsa, soups, stews, pizza, spaghetti sauce and meatloaf – to name a few.  It adds such fabulous flavor and is good for the kidneys, in moderation.

It was one of my favorite things to grow in New Hampshire, as it lasted right into the first snowfall. I used to have deer come into my yard and nose through the snow to find it!!  Beautiful…..!  I didn’t mind sharing.

deer in winter
This little deer is searching for leftover parsley, and anything green and good, in my former backyard in New Hampshire.

At the end of the growing season I would store parsley by drying or freezingRead how I do it.

I have noticed, since I moved back to Florida, that there are no seeds, and few decent vegetable seedlings, to be found in the stores.  I managed to save this parsley from a neglected Home Depot shelf in August.  It looked pathetic, but I know how resilient parsley is, and sure enough it grew in nicely.  There is plenty, even though I pick many branches every day!

The lettuce was a recent purchase and it didn’t look too good either, but it seems to be doing well in this recent cool weather we’ve had.  I’ve even used a few leaves to add to a sandwich.  I prefer buttercrunch or the variety lettuce, but I’ll look for seeds next year.

Apparently this is not the time of year to buy seedlings and seeds.  In early spring I will most likely have more luck. For now, I will fill my fabric pots, which I used with much success up north, and grow a few things in there. I found a nearby garden center which I must visit soon.

Freezing Parsley For Winter Use

I grow parsley in my summer garden (New Hampshire) every year.  It’s a healthy herb that can be added to so many dishes.  It can be planted earlier than most crops, as it tolerates cold weather, and it will grow until it’s covered with snow.  I’ve had deer in my yard poking through an early snowfall just to pull up parsley to eat (my photo here).

Because it’s easy to grow, and the little plants take up very little garden space. IMO everyone should grow their own parsley!  My backyard garden is not large, but I always have around 6-12 parsley plants growing among my other vegetable plants.

parsley fresh flat leaf
Pixabay image

Parsley is Healthy

Parsley is good for overall health and is especially good for the kidneys as it acts as a diuretic to flush waste out of the body.  That link will take you to a page I wrote about the general overall benefits of growing  and eating parsley.  I mention a few ways to preserve it as winter approaches, and I’ve tried a couple.

I briefly covered how to freeze parsley because I was not too familiar with doing it personally.  But last year I discovered how easy it was to not only preserve it by freezing, but how easy it was to use it later on.

This is how I freeze my fresh picked parsley.  Always pick parsley by the stem and use the largest outside stems first.  This will cause the plant to continue to send out new stems from the middle of the plant.  I pick just a few stems – 6 or 7- to preserve by the amount I plan to use each time.  I like to use a lot of parsley in my meals.

Preparing the Fresh Parsley

Wash the leaves by dunking them in a bowl of water.  Hold the stems and swish the leaves until all dirt and debris is removed.  Use a clean towel to remove most of the water.  I ‘slap’ the leaves on the towel a few times.  Put the parsley, still on the stems, into a jar or vase until the leaves dry completely.  That shouldn’t take long.

Once the parsley is dry, line a cutting board or the counter with saran wrap, or freezer wrap.  Pull off the leafy part of the plants and pile them up on the saran.  Gather all the leaves in a bunch and roll them up.  Just keep rolling and gathering the ones that escape, until you have a nice, fairly tight roll of greens.

Wrap the saran or freezer paper tightly around your roll, and add it to the freezer.  I wrap mine in saran, and then place all the little parsley rolls in one quart size freezer bag which I label with name and date.

This is the basis for freezing.  If you have a lot of parsley and want to freeze more together in a bigger roll, or want to freeze individual portions, that is up to you.  It can be unwrapped and sliced once frozen, so you don’t have to use the entire roll.

Drying Fresh Parsley to Preserve

I also dried a bunch of parsley last year using my dehydrator.  That was a much more time-consuming method, but it works as well.