A recent discussion on Twitter about homegrown harvests in January, has inspired me to write a blog about all of the lovely homegrown veggies I am cooking in my kitchen.
January may be a long, dark cold month but there’s still a lot of homegrown deliciousness. With planning, and some growing space, you could be making some almost entirely homegrown meals next January too. Alternatively, these are the kind of veggies that will have the fewest food miles in shops and markets.
There’s a misconception that January is a time with scant availability of homegrown veg in the UK. The actual “hungry gap” is April/May (depending on your location) when spring sown veg isn’t quite ready yet and over wintered crops have bolted.
I have a polytunnel which helps a lot of course, but everything I am growing in my polytunnel can be grown at an allotment under a polythene cloche (homemade or store bought) – or if you are able to get one, a glass cloche or cold frame. These keep the weather off which helps growth enormously – you should see the difference between autumn sown peas sown outside – rather sad and bedraggled after the awful storms – and those sown under cover – lush and perky. This morning there was a hard frost and I took these photos:
If it freezes outside, it freezes inside the polytunnel and cloches too – just a bit less chilly. That’s why I only grow plants there during the winter that can recover from some freezing.
I’m possibly not the best advert for the sustainable organic lifestyle as I have had a bad cold all week, but including some freshly harvested veg in one’s diet is incredibly beneficial: vitamins, minerals, fibre; boosts the immune system; aids gut health with beneficial microbes. It’s great for your physical health, spending time outside in fresh air, and mental health too. I’ve spent too much time indoors with this horrible weather and getting outside to the plot to pick some veg for my tea (I’m from Yorkshire, it means an evening meal) really helps to clear my head and stop those January blues.
So, this is what I have to choose from when preparing meals. With some seasoning, oil and a few other store bought ingredients I can make nutritious, healthy, almost entirely homegrown meals in the middle of winter.
Veg and herbs I am harvesting outside in January
These are all crops that have less protection – either nothing or a netting cover to keep unwanted munchers (birds, deer, rabbits etc) off. Some of the carrots and beetroot have a fleece cover spread over – see this blog. These are things I am actually cropping now, rather than veg that are not ready yet.
Broccoli – this is actually a bit early, as it is a spring variety but should keep cropping for months
Radicchio and chicories – including luscious leaf chicories, a delicious bitterness
Mangelwurzel leaves – tastier than chard imo, I use the root for wine but that is edible too, used like beetroot
Cabbages – some are fine, some are thinking of bolting due to the bonkers weather, but these are edible too
Kale and Perennial Kale – fantastic in so many dishes and smoothies
Herbs – rosemary, thyme, sage, perennial sorrel, parsley, coriander
Leeks – one of my favourite winter veggies
Parsnips – another favourite, fantastic cooked and raw
Salad – smaller and more beaten up by weather than the undercover leaves but I am picking rocket, lettuce, corn salad, mustards, spinach, chard
Brussels sprouts and sprout tops – oh yum! I even like them for breakfast
Flower sprouts and tops – so delicious and attractive
Beetroot – sown in April and May, they should crop until they bolt in April
Carrots – I’ve harvested some which are stored at home, the rest are pulled as needed from the plot
Almost harvesting rhubarb – I’m forcing some under an old metal dustbin
Crops I am harvesting undercover in January
Mostly from the polytunnel and greenhouse but also from the Vegepod.
New potatoes – these were planted during September in potato sacks in the greenhouse. The foliage died back ages ago due to frosts, and I’ve harvested most of them over the past few weeks. The sacks are covered with layers of up cycled bubble wrap to keep them cosy.
In the polytunnel – spinach, salads (as above), pea shoots, dill, coriander, flat leaf parsley, curly parsley, different kales, rocket, wild rocket, land cress, mustards, various oriental leaves, chervil, broccoli raab, Hon Tsai Tai (a flowering brassica, see photo)
From the Vegepod – salad leaves of kale, lettuce, mustard. Not bad considering it was only put up on November 28th and it is winter.
Growing in my house
Mushrooms – all from different kits, such fun
Herbs – including oregano, kaffir lime, ginger rosemary and mint, pots on windowsills mostly
Citrus – lemons mainly, not many but no food miles!
Micro leaves – all kinds of flavours
Fruit, herbs and vegetables I grew during 2019 and stored for the winter
In the cupboard/on shelves: squash, celeriac, potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, chillies, sweet potatoes, apples, the last few tomatoes
In the freezer: tomatoes, black, red and white currants, strawberries, raspberries, aubergines, other soft fruit
Dried and dehydrated: many different kinds of beans and peas, tomatoes, herbs for cooking and teas, all kinds of vegetables (sliced and dried, for extra flavour in soups and stocks), apples, pears, soft fruit, elderberries, chillies
Preserved: chutney, salts, sugars, liqueurs, canned veg including tomatoes, blackcurrants and apples
To find out how to grow some of my favourite vegetables for sowing in April that store right through the winter, see this blog.
What are your homegrown favourites for winter eating?
For recipe ideas, check out my plant based seasonal recipe book, which is currently on special offer in my shop.
“This is one of my favourite books of the year for gardeners and cooks alike. I highlight the gardening aspect because as a keen grow your own food enthusiast with an allotment but then an incredibly average cook, I need all of the help I can get with making the most of my produce. This is one of the best books I’ve read on cooking the things I grow, written beautifully and informatively. Stephanie’s expertise as a gardener and as a cook shine through on every page. More importantly for me, recipes are simple, generally quick and always easy to follow so calamity cook over here (me) can follow them all without problems. Having cooked a number of meals from the book now I can say they all taste good too. One element I particularly liked are the simpler recipes, like teas and sauces, meaning nothing I grow now need go to waste and instead will be properly used.”