Cold-weather gardening warms hearts

Father William Kneemiller displays his fall vegetables. Father Kneemiller enjoys gardening year-round.

By Father Bill Kneemiller

Yes, this is early December, right before our first snow flurries, and who is thinking of gardening this time of year? Actually, this is one of my favorite times to extend my “fall greens” because the first nips of frost will sweeten up the cold, hardy veggies like Swiss chard and purple kale. These veggies are tasty because the cold-hardening process frees up some of the sugars stored as starch. In addition, bugs do not like the cooler weather so bugs and weeds are at a minimum. I encourage all gardeners to extend their season, if only because of Charles Barnard’s old 1889 adage, “You can bury any number of headaches in a garden.”

Next spring I will start early and set up my 4-foot-by-4-foot greenhouse to complement my cold frames. What really keeps me going with my cold-weather hobby is the quality and taste of these hardy veggies. I have been experimenting with stir-frying these veggies in some virgin olive oil with Italian spices. My report is that these meals have been some of the best I have eaten — ever! Cold-weather gardening makes the winter a little shorter, as it extends the fall season about four to six weeks. Spring will arrive a little early for me as I start seeding the greens in late February or early March, depending on the severity of the winter.

One of the best garden books is “Year-Round Vegetable Gardener” by Niki Jabbour of Nova Scotia, Canada. Niki writes that some of our most popular veggies — such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, lettuce and a dozen other greens —sweeten up with the first frosts. The most dramatic contrast to the dead of winter is the vibrancy of cold, hardy greens. Some of these salad greens survive temperatures in the 20s (Fahrenheit). I have been reading about Asian greens that can withstand temperatures as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit.


Melon trellis with a barn-shaped design

Besides cold-weather gardening, one other garden tip I can offer for those with smaller growing areas, or anyone else with an interest in gardening, is “vertical gardening.” This past summer I asked my buddy Tom Heinold if he could design a melon trellis since I wanted to grow cantaloupes and other melons. Tom used his engineering and creative skills to come up with a great design. As I continue to be creative with gardening, I encourage my fellow Iowans to be creative. I have been experimenting with semi-dwarf fruit trees and moderate-sized fruit trees. In addition, as I weed or do some routine tasks, I find it is a great time to catch up praying the rosary or chaplet. As we continue our challenging times and virus watch, gardening and harvesting fresh veggies are a heathy way to cope and to enjoy tasty greens from your own Garden of Eat’n!

(Father William Kneemiller is chaplain at The Kahl Home in Davenport.)

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