Leeks, Kale, and other cold weather veggies

polygonum_tinctoriumJanuary 6, 2012

I get to have a vegetable garden this year! Now I can find out how gardening in Colorado really differs from gardening elsewhere.

Among other things, I am interested in cold-hardy vegetables such as leeks and kale. Does anyone here have specific recommendations about varieties that are cold-tolerant enough to survive Colorado winters? Do you harvest the leeks in late fall? Toss some mulch over them and keep them going all winter? Let them freeze but use them for a while in the spring before they bolt? The same for kale -- does any of it overwinter here? Or survive then resprout in the spring?

Some of the seed catalogs I'm getting claim that they are over-wintering kale and other cold-hardy veggies in Maine. Maine's winters are cold, but I don't know if they get quite as cold as we do here. Also, they don't usually have the big swings in temps that we do, nor the extended dry weather and inconsistent snow cover.

Any other veggies that have a good shot at being usable through the winter in the garden? I don't know if I'll try a cold-frame as a season extender, or if it would make enough of a difference. I will also grow some things that will get stored inside over winter, such as potatoes.

I know we discuss winter-sowing on this forum. Should I look for any particular threads, forums, or websites as being good introductions to the topic? I might as well try it, right?


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P_T, I'm going to start off here not because I can say much about gardening in Colorado but because I can say something about kale. First tho', there's the leeks.

I've grown leeks about 5 or 6 season. However, they have always been harvested at the end of the growing season. They keep well in the crisper drawer of the fridge. I feel compelled to use them about now and really enjoy them in winter soup.

Before I say something about kale - the climate . . . I used to think that my climate here was similar to some special corner of Colorado . . . somewhere. The forests are very much the same as those around Durango but we just don't have the high elevation. There is less sunlight here in the winter and more cloud cover.

Okay, kale -- I have grown Blue Scotch Kale for many years. The plants are started in the greenhouse and set out, so they have a good start. The leaves are harvested right thru the growing season. By the time the fall frosts come, the plants look like little palm trees. They can survive the winter but I have no interest in them come spring.

I gave some plants to my neighbor in 2010. He asked me what he should do with them last spring. I didn't know what to tell him. Obviously, he had made very little to no use of them during 2010 and they were just HUGE within a few weeks into the 2011 growing season. His plants (and mine) survived a winter with one night down to minus 22F. There was snow cover but I'm sure it didn't completely cover his plants. There were a half dozen or more nights that were sub-zero last winter.

So, I've gotta say that I can't remember if I've ever eaten kale the season after it was grown but I hope this is a little bit of help, anyway.


    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 10:31PM
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I've grown leeks now several years, only one year did they successfully over-winter - and for the life of me, I can't tell why they did so one year and not the others. I'll be starting leeks indoors from seed here within the next few weeks.

This past summer I directly seeded Russian Red kale in June, and have been harvesting leaves all summer and picked a small batch just last week - we're having a really dry winter, otherwise it looks as if it would still be growing even in the winter. This variety tastes a lot better after a few frosts - its more tender, sweeter.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2012 at 10:02AM
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Thanks for the info on the kale. I will grow it and try to keep it going over the winter. I expect it to bolt the following spring, of course. It's good to know that it will probably do just fine in my garden over winter.

Leeks: there are varieties bred for fall harvest, and then there are varieties bred to tolerate extreme cold. I'll try some of the varieties that emphasize cold tolerance. I'll also harvest some before winter and try to store them to use for as long as possible.

Some of the varieties I see available this year that mention cold hardiness are Bandit, Bleu de Solaise, maybe Carantan, Giant Musselburgh, maybe Lexton (F1), Prizetaker, maybe Tadorna. Durabel and Laura are sometimes mentioned as good winter varieties, but I'm not sure that seed is commercially available this year. Does anyone have experience with any of these varieties?

I can't remember what variety I used to grow. It was hardy to at least 5F.

For kale, I'm probably going to get one of those wild kale seed mixes, bred by Frank and Karen Morton of Wild Garden Seed and distributed through several sources. I can't resist the diversity... They have a leek mix, too, but I'd hate to eat the leek(s) best suited for my climate and thus have no seeds for the following year.

Please keep any recommendations coming for cold weather veggies! Does anyone have experience with collards, mustards, the Oriental greens such as mizuna, or the chicory/endive/radicchio group? Is anyone going to try the Flower Sprout, a veggie created by crossing Brussels sprouts with kale?

    Bookmark   January 7, 2012 at 2:55PM
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We'll see if the system will let me post two messages in a row.

I'm finding reports of Bleu de Solaise surviving zone 4 winters in Utah, and also overwintering in New Hampshire. That's good enough for me to give it a try. Dunno if I'll plant some other variety for summer/fall leeks, or if I'll grow onions or scallions or something instead.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2012 at 7:32PM
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I don't see any reference to beets, parsnips, celeriac or carrots, P_T. I have grown mustards, many Asian greens including mizuna, and chicory. Haven't tried to keep the greens in the garden for winter use tho'. Something like mustard will need some protection or it will be scarred by the frost even if the cold doesn't actually kill it.

Chicory . . . I grew a whole bed of it 1 year! Had no idea what it tasted like, back then. Filled a box with the roots and hoped the sprouts off them would be less bitter! Nope . . . too bitter for me.

Some folks will bury beets in a pit. I do that most years with carrots & parsnips. Both keep very, very well like that.

Everyone should find his/her favorite variety but I see the wide choice in leeks & parsnips as rather bewildering! Was there something I missed? Do these 2 vegetables show up much in American gardens? Maybe, we can just blame the British for the multitude of choices!

Lancelot leeks have grown well for me along with Gladiator and Javelin parsnips. I remember trying other parsnip varieties and having 1 that absolutely didn't suit my taste! And, I like parsnips!

Celeriac is my best keeper. I've kept them in the pit with the carrots or I can store things in the carport fridge until it gets real cold out and then I've gotta get them crammed into the kitchen fridge. The celery root will still be around come spring! How about that?

Okay, I'd better stop and CO gardeners can talk about their storage crops.


    Bookmark   January 7, 2012 at 11:35PM
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Nice pic!

I don't really like beets or chard. I like growing them, but don't like the flavor much. I don't much like the flavor of celeriac, so again, probably not in my garden list.

For carrots and parsnips, are they really better than what you can get at the store? I mostly try to grow things that have a definite advantage (cost, quality, flavor, novelty) over what I can buy. Thanks for the recommendation about parsnip varieties if I grow them this year. Do you have some favorite carrot varieties? I find myself attracted to the novelty ones -- yellow, purple, etc.

Lancelot leeks aren't one of the really winter-hardy varieties. I'm sure they're quite good, though, from the descriptions in the seed catalogs.

Dunno why there are a lot of leek varieties. Maybe you're right that it's something about other cultures' cuisine. I happen to like their flavor and ease of use, and they are expensive and gritty in the grocery stores. Thus they are worth growing for me. I don't know how popular they are with most American gardeners.

Thanks for the advice about mustards. So, if I try to over-winter them, let them rest over winter and mostly use the new leaves in the spring.

Chicory and endive can be really bitter, for sure! I mostly like them when there's only a tinge of bitterness. I only use them for salad-ish stuff. I don't want to bother with forcing them in the cellar to get the blanched heads.

Do you start your Oriental greens indoors and then transplant out? Do you do a spring and then a fall planting? Which ones tolerate summer heat and long days without getting bitter or bolting? (And now this thread is starting to wander from its original purpose.)

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 10:16AM
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Wandering, P_T? I can't walk a straight line.

The mustards could probably be buried under something like a straw mulch and you could use them as needed thru the winter. Bok choy will sometimes survive a winter in the open but will look sooooo bad by spring that no one would want to eat them. They bolt or, they die with the start of the warm weather.

Especially with bok choy, I start them all sorts of ways so that they are in continuous supply. In a heated greenhouse to transplant into a plastic tunnel, in a tunnel to transplant into the garden, and direct-seeded in the open garden. They peter out during the hottest summer weeks but I can get a couple nice crops of them in the fall. Mostly, I recklessly sow seed and hope it all turns out okay.

It has been an awfully long time since I've bought a soopermarket carrot so I don't know how to compare. Longer, for parsnips . . . Sugarsnax is a nice carrot but most any of the Nantes-types do fairly well for me.


    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 5:10PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

I'm gonna jump in here with a few comments! Am I right in assuming you're looking for things that you can basically "store" outside to save room in the fridge and in the house? If that assumption is right, you can store carrots, parsnips and beets outside right in the ground--without digging them up! Most of my beets and carrots and all of my parsnips are still out in the ground! I was planning to dig up some of them this past week with the nice weather, but haven't been feeling all that good, so I put it off for our next batch of warm weather! Before we got our first REALLY cold snap, I dumped a couple big bags of maple leaves on them! When I stored them outside a couple years ago I put a lot more leaves on them and then covered the whole thing with an old sheet to keep the leaves from blowing away--didn't bother doing that this time, and I'm expecting them to be just fine. You said you don't like beets, but have you ever tried the gold ones? And if you like pickled things, pickled beets are really good--and don't really taste a whole lot like "beets" anymore!

Digit, where are you finding so many varieties of parsnips? Almost everywhere I look carries Harris Model, and most places seem to only have one, or maybe two other varieties. I was planning to try Hollow Crown one year, but never got around to getting the seed! Overall I've been very happy with Harris! Considering my really heavy clay, they seem to be able to easily bully their way down into it, and I've had a few up to 14" long! I think I have more trouble digging them up than they do growing! Do you have a particular variety that you like more than Harris? I think they're incredibly sweet and yummy!

A couple comments about carrots! I tried Purple Dragon this year, and I guess I was expecting it to be--at least partly--purple inside, but discovered that the only thing that's purple is the skin! Have to say I was disappointed! There are lots of sites online expounding on the increased health benefits of the purple ones, but I always peel carrots, so, there goes the purple! If anybody knows of a purple variety that's purple all or most of the way thru, I'd love to know about it! The Purple Dragon I grew this year stayed VERY small, and since they aren't purple inside, I wasn't planning to grow them again! Interesting factoid: When I peeled them some of them were nice and orange inside, and some of them were a pale, kind of anemic looking yellow! Looked identical on the outside! One other thing while I'm thinking about it! If you grow carrots and decide to dig and keep them in the fridge, don't wash them! Just brush off any excess soil, be sure they're not overly wet, and stick them in a plastic bag! A couple years I still had a few left in the fridge when I was planting the following year, and they were still just fine having been stored that way. I'm not sure about this, but based on my experience it almost seems as if washing them washes off some sort of "natural" protection, and they don't seem to keep as long if washed first--IMO! (I don't wash any root crops if I'm storing them in the fridge.)

I grow a Chantenay type--specifically Royal Chantenay, but there are several others. They get big around--easily up to a couple inches, but stay fairly short--usually up to about 4-5" for me--tho I really don't have ideal growing conditions considering both soil and light. The Chantenay kind are also supposed to be one of the easiest to grow in heavy soils. With my awful soil, based on having tried the Nantes type that digit recommends, I definitely get the biggest and best carrots from the Chantenay's! My brother in Illinois grows them (which is how I discovered them), and with his good Illinois black dirt, his get HUGE. More than 2" in diameter and at lest 4-5" long. BUT, no matter how huge they get, they are always sweet and tender all the way thru--no nasty core in the middle. He stores his in a bucket, in dry sand, in an unheated building over winter. See the link below for info about some of the different types! I tried a white one last year too--mostly for the novelty of it, but they also didn't get very big at all, and since most of the health benefits are in the deep colors, I decided it wasn't worth using my limited space to grow them again.

About the quality, I think the home-grown ones are noticeably better for all the root crops. I use a lot of store bought carrots, and usually keep my home grown ones to eat raw or to use when I'm having company! They really are good--tho you sometimes run into really good store bought ones, but you never know what they'll taste like till you get them home! With parsnips, since so few people seem to know about them, I don't remember finding really fresh, good ones in a grocery store--ever! Before I started growing them I bought store bought ones a few times, and they weren't awful, but they were always just--old, having laid around in the store for so long. I've never bought produce department beets. it's either my own or canned--and home grown trumps canned by a mile!

I'm not into all the "weird" kinds of greens you're asking about--that Digit tends to grow, so I can't help you with answers for any of that stuff! I don't like bitter AT ALL! Tried orach once when I got some seeds at a swap and even that was too bitter for me!

I grew leeks one year when a pack of starts (Lancelot) jumped into my basket at Paulino's, and I really liked them, but with my dearth of sunlight, they really didn't do that well or get very big, most of them, so I haven't tried them again since then. I would like to grow a few again some year, maybe try to get them into a place with a little more sun. BUT, the year I did grow them, I also covered them with maple leaves and left them in the ground well into the winter.

A couple other things that you can grow well into, if not all the way thru, winter are parsley and cutting celery. Depending on the winter, you can pick and use them all winter long. The cold doesn't phase them, and they are NOT covered at all! They will, being biennials, bolt as soon as it gets warm in spring, so you do need to start new ones each year.

My other "winter crop" is tomatoes! They, of course, need to be stored inside, but I'm still picking them--up in an unheated bedroom. They started out again hung in the garage, but when it was gonna get well below freezing the first time I carried them in and laid them on a sheet in the bedroom--where they're (mostly the cherries now) still slowly ripening.

Oh, and I haven't gotten around to this yet, but spinach, at least some varieties, can be planted in fall in time to germinate, and they'll be the first thing you can use in the spring. Charlene did this the first year she had a veggie garden when she planted them in fall hoping to get a crop then, but didn't and figured it had been a waste, and then she had an amazing crop in early spring--and we all had a wonderful spinach salad at the very first swap, which was at her house! I have been planning to start some in fall for three years now, and just never get it done. Regret it every spring since I haven't yet been able to successfully grow spinach when I start it in the spring. It always immediately bolts!

That's all I can think of right now--and the second season of Downton Abbey just started, so I have to go! If I think of anything else I'll be back!


P.S. When you want to do two posts in a row, just change the subject, or a word or couple letters in the subject, and it's no problem! GW doesn't seem to recognize it as a second post that way!

P.P.S. Digit, what does kale taste like??? Is it like cabbage? I alway thought of it just as an ornamental when I sold it, and I know you can eat it but just never thought about growing it. Do you eat it fresh too, or just cooked? Tell me all about it!

Here is a link that might be useful: Different types of carrots

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 11:52PM
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Posted by skybird . . . Digit, where are you finding so many varieties of parsnips? Almost everywhere I look carries Harris Model, and most places seem to only have one, or maybe two other varieties. I was planning to try Hollow Crown . . . Digit, what does kale taste like??? Is it like cabbage? . . .

Well, it's the leeks that come in so many varieties, Skybird. Why that is, I cannot fathom. It is difficult for me to imagine gardeners growing a half-dozen different ones or comparing notes over the fence with their neighbor. I don't know, are leeks becoming an "IN" veggie?

Parsnips, I did a quick search:

Johnny's with Javelin, Albion
Stokes with Harris, Andover, Gladiator, Albion
Territorial with Javelin, Albion, Cobham
T & M with Gladiator, Excalibur
Scheepers with Panache

I grew Hollow Crown many years ago. The name isn't very attractive . . . what can I say?

Kale? It has a little bit of a burnt taste to me, Skybird . . . I don't think that's just a memory of the way my mother cooked most everything. I don't think you'd like it - there is that bitterness. The slight problem I have with kale isn't the flavor, which I like. It is the toughness. Chewy. Never occurs to me to put it in a salad.

I wanted to grow Couve Tronchuda (Portuguese kale) this year but neglected to buy seed for it. I don't really think that P_T would be able to get it thru the winter outdoors but I may be wrong. Kale is great in soup & so there's Portuguese kale soup! These are all closely related to cabbage, as is collards. All a matter of taste.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 1:30PM
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Fantastic info, skybird and digit and david. Thank you so much.

I don't know why I don't like beets. I've tried chard, and didn't like it because it tasted too much like beets. It was fun to grow, though. Rainbow chard (aka 5 Color Silverbeet or Bright Lights) is really beautiful. I haven't tried golden beets, I don't think.

I use the tender leaves of kale as a salad veggie, with tougher ones in soups or stir-fries. I have not used it much as a winter veggie, but am curious since it's pretty and so very cold hardy. I don't like a lot of bitterness or a tough vegetable. So it's possible that I won't want to grow a lot of kale. It's cabbage-y and slightly bitter, but pretty harmless when picked as a tiny leaf for a salad.

You are correct about me wanting to essentially use the outdoors as my storage area over winter. I'm also interested in the other kind of thing you mentioned -- overwintering to get that spring flush of new growth before the plant bolts. Thanks for the advice on both.

Re: leek varieties. I'm wondering if the assortment of varieties is for people growing it for the commercial market or for the restaurant trade. The varieties have different maturation windows.

I don't know if leeks are an "in" veggie. I liked them when I grew them in my old garden as an experiment. So I'll grow them again.

Colored carrots: Johnny's Selected Seeds is listing Deep Purple (F1) as a purple carrot. They show it sliced in a photograph, and the purple goes all the way through. They list Purple Haze (F1) as a purple-skinned carrot with an orange interior, and Rainbow (F1) as a "single variety with color variability." The photo shows carrots in shades of yellow and orange, mostly pale. Territorial Seeds also has Purple Haze and Deep Purple, with the same description of color. Pinetree has Cosmic Purple (purple skin and orange interior) and Rainbow (F1), which it describes as a mix of "a white, 2 yellows, 2 oranges, and a beautiful soft coral".

So, if you're looking for colorful carrots, maybe add Deep Purple and Rainbow to your other carrots?

Parsley is good. Thanks for the info about its cold hardiness. Bleh on the cutting celery. I'm not a big celery fan, either. That's good info about the tomatoes, too. Even winter-ripening homegrown tomatoes are better than store-bought, in my experience.

Since I'm talking about cold weather and such, when do people plant potatoes around here? And peas?

I know that peas will survive really cold weather, so they might be another candidate for a fall planting. I've had newly sprouted peas survive 5F and a few weeks of being covered with 6" of snow. The peas were not fazed and continued upward as soon as the soil warmed again. In my years here in Colorado, I have not yet seen below-zero temps past mid-February. So it's probably safe to plant the next time the ground thaws.

Will potato plants survive the occasional snows we get in May or June?

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 4:01PM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

Just a quick comment on carrots. For me, it's more about convenience. If I buy a bag of carrots at the grocery, and only need two or three for a recipe, then there's half a bag sitting in the fridge taking up space until the next time I need one. Then, by the time a need another one, they aren't looking so good anymore. I love being able to pick one, or two, or three carrots at a time, always fresh, and no waste. Taste is not significantly different, maybe a little crisper just because they have only been out of the ground for a matter of minutes before they are eaten.

Okay, maybe a couple other comments about carrots. Don't use purple in soup, unless you like purple soup, which trust me tastes fine, but is somehow unappetizing. The white and yellow ones can get huge, so check the shoulders occasionally so that they don't get so big they become woody. I do like Nutri-Red. They are slender, never woody, always sweet and crunchy.

I've only grown parsnips once, though I've sown them a couple other times and just didn't get germination. Don't do what I did and wait until the end of the season to harvest. They were so ginormous that I couldn't pull them out without breaking the tips off. Some were in the 15" range!!!


    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 4:21PM
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kvenkat(5a Colo)

I know I won't be much help since my cold weather veggies were all WS in late January. I grew Red Winter kale last year but did not get to taste it. At the end of April they were looking pretty good and then in one fell swoop, the dratted rabbits ate them all! Protect yours if these wascally creatures are about.
The other things I have WS are arugula, mizuna, Tyee spinach and Black-seeded Simpson lettuce.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 9:24PM
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My leeks, onions, and bunching onions are germinating.

The deer went through the garden and nibbled the kale stalks clean - just 8 inch high stubs are all that remain.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 12:05AM
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I don't think I have voracious mammalian plant predators here yet. But I'll keep your warnings in mind!

Thanks for the further info/ideas on what to plant. I am still dithering, but need to get my orders in to the seed companies soon!

I found some very old seed for some of the above mentioned veggies. I could try them while waiting for the newer seed to arrive. I know the germination wouldn't be great. But it would be interesting to see if any of the seed is viable.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 11:38AM
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