Hands-On Gardener: For the Love of Brussels Sprouts

by Miriam Hansen

 

Early November and we’ve had our first really hard frost, the perfect time to finish harvesting the Brussels sprouts and some of the parsnips and kale. A friend taught me a wonderful technique for freezing kale. Blanche about six to 10 leaves by dipping them into boiling water. One-and-a-half minutes should be sufficient. Lift the leaves out of the hot water and transfer to an ice bath. Drain and dry the leaves, remove the stems and stack the leaves on a cutting board. Roll them up like a cigar, squeeze lightly to get rid of excess moisture and stuff them into a freezer bag. Suck the air out of the bag and stack them in the freezer. When you want to use the kale, simply shave off as many thick or thin slices from the cigar as you need and put the rest back in the freezer. It makes a neat, easy to use package that allows you to get a tremendous amount of kale into a small area.

I can find only anecdotal evidence that Brussels sprouts are sweeter after a frost but this year I started the sprouts in May, which meant they were ready to begin harvesting in late September. We harvested the last sprouts on the second of November and what a crop! My favorite way to cook them is halved, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted at about 425 degrees until they are slightly browned. The golden color tells you they have caramelized. Harvested before or after a frost, they’re sweet and yummy!

While I’ve been toiling away in the perennials, my husband and daughter have been tilling, planting winter rye and covering the newly planted garlic with a thick layer of leaves. He also gathered leaves to make a tarp sandwich for the winter carrots and beets. He lays half a tarp over the plants, piles leaves on it and folds the other half over it. Presto! A tarp sandwich! In winter, he shovels the snow off and pulls the tarp back to expose the green tops of the plants. Even in the severest winter, we’ve had virtually no frost damage and only occasional mouse nibbling at the end of the season. While you can store these crops in sand in a root cellar, we’ve been using this technique for about 30 years and will stick with it as long as one of us has the strength to do a little digging.

This season I have been uncharacteristically relieved to put the garden to bed. Perhaps this has been my response to an overly ambitious garden or the fact that I am not as young as I once was, but I think there is something else afoot. I think I’ve been overcome by how much work is involved in growing our own food. From ordering seeds to planting, tending, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, freezing, canning … the tasks have seemed never ending. While other folks are on vacation, travelling, hiking, enjoying the beautiful long days, we are toiling away in the garden. We could buy a pretty fancy jar of organic tomato sauce for at most $10 a jar. Why then are we growing our own oregano, basil, onions, garlic, peppers and tomatoes in order to make our own? I’ve been struggling with these questions, asking myself if this level of relentless activity is warranted.

And then I watched the movie “Fed Up” about the correlation between obesity, the sharp rise of Type 2, or adult diabetes in children and the prevalence of processed food in their diet—including school lunches—where lobbying by the food industry forced the inclusion of pizza as a vegetable because of the smear of tomato sauce on the dough! I think about the quantity of sugar in every jar of processed food and the undisclosed percentage of our dietary “need” that sugar represents.   

And I think about the renowned environmental activist from India, Vandana Shiva, who said yesterday in a talk she gave in Burlington that “It is around food that all colonization and totalitarianism is being established. Food is becoming the site of control, the site of profits; the site of creating a world that is so unreal that if we accept it, life itself will not be possible.”

She continued on to say, “This is the year of family farming. The bulk of food comes from small farms. Large industrial farms are not a significant part of the food system. “And I realized that the tomato sauce I make is more than the number of dollars it would cost to buy an upscale jar from the supermarket or co-op. It is a political act. It is an act of defiance and it is an act that more and more of us should know how to do.  We don’t all need to grow our own food but we should be teaching our children not only what food is but how to grow it and cook it and have control over what we are putting in our bodies.

So that is my rant this November. Starting with an excellent way to freeze kale and ending with an offer. If you have a question, if there is something you need help with in the vegetable garden, send me an email to freshair460@gmail.com. I will do my best to answer your question(s).

The Hands-on Gardener column will be back in January to talk about seed catalogs and ordering seeds. Miriam and her husband, David, grow most of their own food on less than a quarter of an acre. They also have extensive perennial beds.  As she enters the fifth year of writing this column, Miriam has decided to talk more about perennials and shrubs and flower gardening.

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