Looking back on the 2021 kitchen garden year, what stands out are unusual extremes in the weather. A cool, dry spring was followed by a record hot dry summer, followed by a very wet fall and capped off by record cold and snow at the end of the year. I remember bemoaning the lack of warmth in late spring as summer crops weren’t thriving and then worrying about summer crops suffering from extreme heat as I acknowledged that I need to be careful what I wish for. Then there was the worry that fall rains, while good for hydrating summer beds for cover crop planting, were drowning fall and winter vegetables. And finally, there was the winter kitchen gardener’s anxiety over extreme cold killing rather than sweetening winter roots and greens. Kitchen gardeners always notice the weather, but this past year provided more than the usual opportunities to worry about it.
As 2021 ended in the ten-degree days and fierce winds of late December, I turned for comfort to 2022 and the garden year ahead. As I do every year, I began with an inventory of my vegetable seeds and then opened seed catalogs to find refills of favorites and read about enticing new varieties. As I considered what to plant for each season, the pleasure of remembering familiar vegetables and imagining new varieties carried me away from cold winter outside and into plans for spring, summer and fall.
One of my plans for the spring kitchen garden this year is to plant early and to plant more so we’ll have good crops of spring roots and greens for a much-anticipated family visit in June. I usually plant seeds outdoors around Earth Day, the third week in April, but this year, I may start some carrots and spring turnips a few weeks earlier in April, just to be sure to have lots to harvest in mid-June. I’ll also start some lettuce indoors to set out in early May. I’ll plant my usual lettuce mixes but also some romaine, Mayan Jaguar and Olga, for big, crispy salads. Finally, I’ve ordered seeds of Asian greens like Tatsoi, Chinese cabbage and Pac Choi for these adventurous eaters.
One plan for the summer garden is to plant enough bee-attracting flowers to pollinate summer and winter squash, cucumbers and other vegetables. In addition to ordering borage seeds to go with the calendulas that volunteer each year, I studied the sunflower offerings in various catalogs to be sure I ordered open-pollinated varieties. As I learned from this site “be sure to plant open-pollinated varieties that produce pollen. Bees need pollen for protein and to feed their larvae. There are a lot of varieties of sunflowers that lack pollen, popular among people who don’t want to clean up the pollen mess from cut flowers and for the allergy-prone.” I’ve ordered a Sunflower Mix from Pinetree “A phenomenal mix of open pollinated sunflowers. Tall and short as well as single and double varieties. Everything to delight you and all of your garden pollinators.”
Another plan for the summer garden is to plant vegetables that are most fun to share with others at picnics and outdoor dinners. Corn and tomatoes top the list. Last summer’s heat did result in amazing corn, for us and for friends. Corn on the cob, fresh corn salad with shishito peppers are always hits. Café is the corn variety I’ve planted the past few years and Takara Shishito produces loads of flavorful small peppers. Bowls of cherry tomatoes, red Sweet Million, Orange Paruche, purple Sunchocola and green of the delicious Green Doctors as well as plates of sliced tomatoes, red Dester and Momotaro, dark red Cherokee Purple, yellow Golden Jubliee all signal summer at the table. So do bowls of green and yellow pole beans and plates of roasted purple eggplant. Green Fortex and Nor’easter, yellow Golden Gate and Monte Gusto produce all summer as does beautiful purple Galine eggplant. Peppers complete the summer palate with red Carmen and Stocky Red Roaster, orange Etudia and yellow Flavorburst, delicious fresh or roasted. Summer vegetables are for sharing, and I’m hoping that we’ll have less isolation and more large gatherings in summer 2022.
For the fall and winter garden, I once again plan to have a good supply of seeds of hardy roots, brassicas and greens. These vegetables thrive in our marine winters, but they do need protection in cold spells like the one we just had. Before the deep cold of late December and early January hit, I covered the beds containing winter vegetables with extra hay, then tarps. Fortunately, the five inches of snow that fell provided another layer of insulation against the ten-degree nights. And knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get to these crops for a while, I harvested two weeks-worth of celery root, turnips, rutabaga, parsnips, leeks, Brussels sprouts, carrots, radicchio and chicory before layering on protective coverings. As I studied seed catalogs for the year ahead, I was glad to have a fridge full of winter food even though I was anxious about what would survive the cold. The fridge is nearly empty now, and with the January thaw that has set in, I’m relieved to see that all the remaining winter vegetables survived the cold and will see us through the rest of the winter.
There will no doubt be more weather to worry about in 2022, but I have seeds and plans to see me through the next gardening year. And lots of meals ahead with family and friends.