What I’m Growing this Winter

Rucola Coltivata sel Ortolani K

Winter in our Mediterranean climate is when we grow cool season vegetables. It’s my favorite time of year here. The hills turn green, the smog blows away and we have that phenomenon called “rain” (hopefully).

As usual, I’m planting seeds from an Italian seed company, Franchi. Here’s what I’m growing:

Arugula “Coltivata Sel. Ortolani”
One can never have enough arugula. It’s my favorite vegetable. This year I’m trying Franchi’s arugula “Coltivata Sel. Ortolani.” Franchi sells both “cultivated” and “wild” varieities of arugula (confusing, since the “wild” varieties are actually cultivated). Cultivated varieties tend to be milder and less sharp in taste. I like them both. Franchi highlights certain varieties by featuring them as “Selezione Speciale” which is why I chose this particular arugula.

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Chicory “Pan di Zucchero”
I chose this chicory on the recommendation of Franchi’s West Coast distributor The Heirloom Seed Store, who had a booth at this year’s Heirloom Exposition. The owners of the Heirloom Seed Store, who run a farm in the Santa Cruz area, raved about this particular chicory. It’s a large-leafed variety that can be used in a salad or cooked.

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Radicchio and Chicory Mix: “Misticanza di Radicchi”
I’ve never gone wrong with Franchi’s salad mixes. The best damn salads I’ve ever had in my life have been made with these mixes.

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Mache “Valeriana Verte de Cambrai”
This is my first attempt at growing this cold tolerant weedy vegetable.

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Portuguese cabbage
I’m usually hesitant to grow cabbage due to pest problems. But I thought I’d give this unusual variety, that does not form a head, just for the novelty factor. It’s the primary ingredient in a traditional Portuguese soup called caldo verde, or “green broth.” This cabbage variety is also heat tolerant as it’s from southern Portugal which has a climate similar to ours. I’m hoping the open leaves don’t provide as much slug habitat as normal varieties.

If you grow during the winter (or are in the Southern Hemisphere) let us know what you’re planting this fall.

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11 Comments

  1. I love the Franchi Sementi seeds — and that Sugarloaf Chicory is the bomb! It’s delicious. One of my all-time favorites.

  2. I planted iceberg lettuce, radishes (winter and summer), beets, carrots, fennel, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, and garlic. I thought everything was growing well, based on a visual survey from the sidewalk. When I looked closer, something (rabbit? squirrel?) has gone down the rows and bit the center out of the cole crop plants. (Insert extreme verbal obscenities here.) Does anybody have any nontoxic repellants to recommend? Also, will the cole crops recover, or are they doomed not the make heads? I used a search engine to look for answers to the second question, but came up blank.

    • I’m sorry, but I can’t answer either of your questions! Hopefully someone else will. All I can say is that the only solution we’ve found for critters is exclusion. And as to the plants, I know that some of those cole-type plants will regenerate for a second round of growth if cut off at the base when mature, leaving the roots in the ground. But those are mature plants with big root systems.

  3. Am curious as to when/if you grow tomatoes? you may have already mentioned it. I am in southern Illinois near St. Louis and we are going to have our first freeze tomorrow night, which brings an end to tomato season. Tomatoes are my favorite thing from the garden.

    I grew kale from seed for a fall crop but man did I ever have to fight for it! Cabbage worms, another worm I couldn’t identify, and harlequin bugs (first time I encountered them) were all over the plants. They destroyed my brussels sprouts. But the kale for fall – I waited to plant it out until it was a bit colder, and bought a row cover that excludes bugs. It should do fine thru the freeze and will go dormant for Jan and Feb when it is really cold, starting to grow again in March.

    • Tomato season here is in the late spring and summer, and continues on into the late fall if managed correctly. We didn’t do so this year, so we’re done with our tomatoes, too.

      Harlequin bugs are the worst. They focus on mustard family plants, like your poor brussels sprouts. I think your plan for kale will work because I don’t think the beasties like cold.

    • Trish–we grow tomatoes here in the late spring/summer. Sometimes they will survive the winter (they are a perennial), but I’ve found their flavor declines each year. We had a cherry tomato plant that survived for two seasons once but they are often knocked back if the temperature dips below freezing as it does occasionally.

      As for cabbage worms I’ve found that I often need to use row cover.

    • Trish–we grow tomatoes here in the late spring/summer. Sometimes they will survive the winter (they are a perennial), but I’ve found their flavor declines each year. We had a cherry tomato plant that survived for two seasons once but they are often knocked back if the temperature dips below freezing as it does occasionally.

      As for cabbage worms I’ve found that I often need to use row cover.

    • Chicory-family plants are by nature bitter. It’s sort of an acquired taste, but addictive. I think our palettes have lost the love of bitter, since so many of our most commonly consumed veggies are on the sweet/bland side. I wonder if kids in Italy complain about their radicchio? Probably!

      At any rate, bitterness is softened by fat–try cooking it with lots of olive oil, butter, cheese, or stewing it with fatty meat (sort of like pork and collards). I remember having a pasta dish of radicchio in cream sauce once when I was in Italy. mmmm.

      Lemon and garlic and hot pepper all go well with chicory, too. Those strong flavors balance the bitterness.

    • I use it in salads. It can also be cooked with olive oil and garlic. Bitterness takes some getting used to–Italians will balance the bitterness with something sweet, say pork chops marinated in balsamic vinegar, or a sweet salad dressing–for a kind of sweet and sour balance. Two other side benefits–bitter greens resists pests in the garden and they are good for us too.

  4. Peas, beans, lettuces, beets, carrots, chard, and several other things I didn’t write down and now don’t know. Also, it’s my first time growing some things so hopefully I’ll be able to tell what they are.

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