What did I harvest in my garden this week? Chard and kale of course. Turnips, turnip tops, leeks. I could harvest the young leaves from the fava beans if I was in need of extra greens, or the new shoots off the peas. There are some brocolli style plants in the garden that taste yummy. Young garlic leaves go great in stir fry. Fresh herbs include rosemary, sage, thyme, some chives, mint, and the bronze fennel is just putting out it's new shoots. In a month, I'll be chowing down on rhubarb. Raspberry and blackberry leaves should be bursting forth soon, and I can pick those for tea. Speaking of tea, my siberian tea shrub should be growing it's new buds soon, then I'll have what it takes to make real tea (if my llama does not eat it all first).
Oh, and I dug out a few new potatoes from the garden while I was getting ready to plant my oats and soup peas. All volunteer potatoes, but tasty none the less.
Then there are the weeds. The chickweed is especially good this year. Winter cress, miner's lettuce, shepherd's purse, and burdock roots are all in fine form. Still waiting on the nettles and the hawthorn.
All this depends on where you are in the world. For us, winter and early spring harvests begin now - as in the planning and planting for next year's winter harvest starts before this January has finished with us. Winter gardening seems to be very localized.
This is a great topic. If you feel comfortable, could you tell us what general area you are living so we can help you better?
You might be interested in Eliot Coleman's two books about harvesting vegetables year round in Maine: The Four Season Harvest, and the Winter Harvest Handbook. I live in a cold-winter climate and love coming back to those books again and again.
Aside from the garden, so wild perennial plants give their edible shoots early in the spring. Where I live, a variety of dock, Rumex, is the earliest in April, and then another locally edible and hugely abundant one, Lepidium latifolium, starts giving us sacks and sacks full of cooking greens in late April and May. I've only just planted asparagus so I don't know whether these are earlier or later.
Works at a residential alternative high school in the Himalayas SECMOL.org . "Back home" is Cape Cod, E Coast USA.
Right now I have growing: Arugula, Holland greens, Red Russian kale, radish, carrot, garlic chive, walking onion, elephant garlic, Canada onions, cardoon, lettuce, perennial arugula, beet, chard, mizuna, collard, oregano, rosemary, fava bean, and some things I'm forgetting. Unless we get a freak unnatural ice storm, I should be harvesting all these things through spring and early summer.
My spring line-up varies from year to year, but there are always a few I put in every year, or come up every year.
Asparagus: we're on our 3rd year with our current patch, and planning to put in another one this year to time stack the harvest so we (hopefully) don't go a year without anywhere down the road. In my region asparagus is a 20-year-perennial.
Arugula: We actually grow this year-round, as it grows in snow just fine. It actually has a hard time with heat, and will bolt quickly when night time temps go above 60 degrees. So, we have long, slow plantings from Oct-April, then rapid successions of baby arugula from May-Sep. We cut the plants to harvest, not pull them, so we harvest every week, no matter the weather.
Rosemary: We have several bushes in different locations around the property, and they always go into a spurt in the late spring.
Savory mints: Greek oregano, germander, marjoram, catmint, and horehound all have rapid tender growth a few weeks after hibernation lifts in the early spring. The first harvest is our biggest, around late April/early May. Then they slow down a bit,but still harvest every 6 weeks. Note: Horehound is actually an evergreen in most places, but it's growth in winter is very slow and not worth mentioning.
Cilantro: We plant in late fall and it usually comes up in late February. We harvest by picking 1/3 of the leaves every two weeks until it bolts to corriander in late April.
Candy mints: Spearmint, peppermint, pineapple mint, sweet mint, and chocolate mint all do the same thing in early Spring as the savory mints, but these continue to grow rapidly until it get REALLY hot (80s at night). Note: Pineapple mint is more fragile than the rest and needs special care if grown in temperate drylands... lol
Lamb's ear: This is an evergreen herb that can be harvested year-round, but it's sweetest leaves are in early Spring right before it flowers.
Sage: A triannual evergreen here, sage's best leafs are in Fall, but starts getting new growth in early April.
Currant flowers: Starts flowering in April here. Berry harvest is in June-August (depending on the type, we have 3 types). We always harvest some of the outer branches during the flowering to keep them under control. Make a great potpourri.
Early spinach: We plant in late Fall and it acts as an indicator for planting our hardy squashes and doing final preps on all other warm season plantings. We always have a harvest by late April.
Various lettuces: We let several cultivars "do their thing" in our food forest and just keep self sowing year after year. Because the forest floor is protected from harsh winds and mild frosts by the upper 4 layers (canopy, understory, clumpers, and bushes) they tend to sprout and grow earlier than other places on our property. We usually have a mixed bag harvest by early April.
Mustard: Another one that's planted in Fall and comes up in late winter/early spring. It never fails, and has become something of a tradition for us to spend the first official day of Spring harvesting mustard greens. (Side note: This year we planted a lot of "first sprouting" greens and snow plants near the fences, where the neighbors can see them, just to show off.)
Okay, trying to remember everything off the top of my head. There's more, but my notebook is in the office in the greenhouse right now. These are only the things we grow outside. There's a LOT more that we get before May, or year-round, from the greenhouse and interior window planters. Tomatoes, cucumbers,...my daughter's pumpkin plant just sprouted in the greenhouse, lol. I've never done winter squashes in the greenhouse before; we'll see how that goes. I should also note that our "greenhouse" is technically a glasshouse on the southern side of our workshop building, with an indoor food forest in it. The entire thing is one big planting box.
I'll post again if I think of anything else that fits the bill. Or after I fetch my notebook...
Where I grew up in southern Michigan, spinach and parsley would reliably overwinter from a fall planting, meaning that there would be something to pick shortly after the spring thaw. The snowier the winter, the better....the greens seemed to keep alive better under a heavy long snow rather than exposed to cold dry wind. And the hardy root crops, like carrots and parsnips, could also stay over, and be harvested at any thaw, as well as early in the spring before they shot off to seed. If they were mulched heavily enough, we could go out and dig through snow and mulch and harvest whenever.
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