If you’re new to Florida, or new to gardening, you may not realize that you can actually grow quite a lot of food in Florida in Winter. The blog this week is to help encourage you to pick out some fine Winter crops to grow this year, to give you a little time to organize before planting time next month.
Pro-Tip: You can start seeds in October for your Winter crops
I love that we can plant year-round here. It opens up so many opportunities for fresh veggies and exploring the concept of “eating seasonal”, in other words, having much of your food be what can be harvested right now. It’s something quite special to see your plant full of delicious things you’ve grown, even when it’s cold outside.
To be quite honest, I’d rather be out in the cold gardening than in the heat of Summer or Fall. That’s why my favorite times of year to garden are Winter and Spring.
So I’m picking 5 of my favorite Winter Crops to share with you! All of these crops stand up to any cold weather we are dished by Old Man Winter (though lately he’s been a bit balmy, I think) – most survive well uncovered down to about 28-30 degrees, lower if they’re covered.
Winter Crop: Turnips
Turnips are, in my opinion, an under-utilized crop. This very humble vegetable in the same phylum classification as Mustards and in the Brassica family grows very similarly to onions and carrots – the part you harvest to eat is just under the surface where the leaves sprout. It’s a “root vegetable.”
Turnips have little flavor on their own, but they are very versatile. They can be boiled and mashed, fried, roasted, baked, and put in soups. They take on the flavor of what you cook with them, but have MUCH LESS CARBS than potatoes – actually people often substitute turnips for potatoes in recipes when they’re trying to eat less carbohydrates (also rutabagas are used for this purpose). In case you’re a keto person, one whole turnip has 5.8 net carbs. The turnip’s youngest greens can be eaten in salads (you have to catch them before their “hairs” are too wiley and tough).
What really packs a punch with turnips is this: they are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. Feeling a little blah? Eat turnips (I’m serious). They have: Fiber, Vitamins K, A, C, E, B1, B3, B5, B6, B2, Folate, Manganese, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, Calcium, Copper, Phosphorus, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Protein. WOW!!
Get some turnips in your life. You won’t be sorry.
Winter Crop: Parsnips
Here I go with another root crop that is, again in my opinion, under valued in the culinary US. The parsnip is related to carrots and parsley in the family Apiaceae. One valuable thing to know is that if you plant them in late Fall and let them grow through the Winter, with the cold weather they get very sweet for delicious late Winter and Spring eating!
They are fairly easy to grow here with organic matter amendments and loosening of the soil down to about 12-16”. Parsnips, like carrots, don’t do well in compacted soil. They end up short and stubby. Still delicious, but you have to plant more to get the volume you’ll be compelled to eat once you discover how yummy they are.
Nutrition-wise, you’re doing well here too. 1 cup has 100 calories, 7 grams of fiber, and high levels of Potassium, Vitamin C, and Magnesium. It also has Calcium, Iron, Vitamin B6 and Protein. They are best eaten boiled and mashed, roasted, and I’ve had good luck with them raw as shavings in a salad.
Pro-Tip: Try Parsnip Oven Fries. Honestly it will change your world.
Winter Crop: Brussels sprouts
I know some of you reading this are saying “nope” to Brussels sprouts and might be tempted to skip this section.
DON’T SKIP OVER THE BRUSSELS.
I promise, it’s only because you’ve been force-fed these little mini cabbages that were totally cooked the wrong way. Brussels sprouts are DELICIOUS when done right (and you don’t have to go to culinary school to make them either), and they’re really fun to grow too. In Florida they only grow well in our cold season.
These members of the Brassica family are a bit finicky in our weather, but if you’re up for a little bit of a challenge I would encourage you to try it. They’re kinda used to the climate of the Pacific Northwest area (think Oregon, Washington State) but they will survive here if we don’t have too many 90+ degree days in a row during the Winter. Too many of those and they’ll bolt (go to seed) without producing the sprouts.
A cup of Brussels sprouts has only 38 calories! And with how rich they taste, they make you feel full really fast. They have a super-high amount of Vitamin C! Also have Vitamin A, Iron, B6, Potassium, and Magnesium. Now that’s power-packed!
One way to preserve all that Vitamin C (when they’re cooked, you lose some of that due to heat degradation) is to slice them up and use them raw in coleslaw instead of (or in addition to) cabbage! It’s a little extra knife work but it adds great flavor and lots of vitamins to your salad.
Winter Crop: Bok Choy (aka Pak Choi aka Chinese Cabbage)
Chinese Cabbage comes in two main varieties of this Brassica member – the Pekinensis group such as Napa Cabbage (this group forms tight heads) and the Chinensis Group such as Bok Choy (this group grows more like celery, individual stalks with leaves).
Do you sense a pattern here? Brassicas grow very well in Winter in Florida! In fact, some might say Winter is the best time to grow them here!
I adore stir fry, and this cabbage is excellent for asian dishes! Really easy to grow, adds a great crunch to stir fry, and quite hydrating too. I also like to lightly saute bok choy in a little sesame oil and add some soy sauce (or liquid aminos – yum) for a little salt as a side dish.
Bok Choy is very low in calories (1 cup is 9 calories!) and it has almost no carbs. High in vitamins A and C, also has potassium, calcium, iron, B6 and magnesium. Pretty great, right?
Winter Crop: Lettuces
There are all different types, shapes, sizes, flavors, and colors of lettuces in the world, and Winter in Florida is a great time to grow them! Lettuces are easy to grow and make a quick and fresh addition to any meal as a salad! If you grow large heads of lettuce, like Iceberg for example, you can even cut the tightly packed heads into quarters, drizzle in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and set on the grill for a couple of minutes for a grilled salad that will change your world (promise).
We rarely get freezes here, and if we do, N-Sulate frost covers will protect your lettuces from the frost. Yes, lettuce is a little more fragile than some of the other choices here in my list, but I don’t think you’ll regret the risk one bit.
Loose-leaf lettuces can be continually harvested over time, so I highly recommend you have these alongside any of the lettuces where you’re waiting for a “head” to grow. Use the succession planting technique for the head lettuces otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of lettuce all at once, and then none again for awhile.
Lettuce can be beautiful and flavorful, so make sure that you enjoy all the great aspects of lettuce in your garden. Because of, the different varieties, I won’t be listing the nutritional aspects here, but you should know that lettuce has very low calories, almost no carbs, and depending on the color, a wide variety of phytonutrients that are good for your skin, your mind, and your heart!
Alright, I hope that this list gives you some things to think about for growing a Winter crop in Florida!
Until next time – Keep Growing!