Our mild coastal climate here in Whatcom County is a boon to locavores* during the winter months. With a little insulation from the earth itself or a thick layer of mulch around the plant to protect its roots, a lot of vegetables can keep producing food on into spring. In fact, some will taste even better after touched by a light freeze.
Some of the best brussels sprouts I ever ate, for example, were harvested from my garden in February. They weren’t lovely to look at on the stalk, but after peeling a couple layers of the outer leaves from them, they looked just like any others. The flavor was sweet and memorable, with less bitter flavor than brussels sprouts harvested in the fall.
Kale, chard, and sometimes even spinach are vegetables that grow through the winter here in most years. Unusually harsh weather can kill anything, of course, but kale especially is tenaciously hardy.
Root vegetables such as potatoes, beets, parsnips and carrots can theoretically be left in the ground over the winter to be dug up as needed. Because we also get a lot of winter precipitation, though, it doesn’t always work well unless you have perfect soil drainage.
More commonly root vegetables are harvested in late fall, set out to dry for a couple of weeks in a place protected from light but open to the air, and finally stored in covered plastic bins or picnic coolers in garages or crawl spaces under houses where they will not freeze. Onions store best in braids (hard to do) or in clean nylon stockings with knots tied between onions.. Carrots and parsnips can be stored like potatoes, but like to be tucked into clean, lightly moistened sand to keep them from drying out and splitting. Root vegetables will keep for several months in this manner. Be sure the bins are rodent-proof, of course.
If you store vegetables at home, check the bins every week or so and remove any produce which starts to spoil. Apples should always be stored separately. A spoiled apple releases gaseous compounds that will speed up spoilage in other kinds of produce.
Because local farmers store vegetables, too, a supply of local winter vegetables can usually be found at the Community Food Co-ops or Terra Organica.
*Locavore: a person who eats locally grown food as much as possible.
This menu features Frizzles, a fun way to use local winter root vegetables: