Winter Garden (Part 1): Edibles

One of the best parts of living in Tucson is the year round gardening. While our friends up north are shoveling snow and de-icing their windshields, we are busying ourselves in the garden for yet another season of veggies, herbs, flowers, and succulents. I wanted to focus this week on some great winter garden edibles that anyone can grow in their backyard, in a container, or even incorporate into their landscaping. Edibles are a wonderful way to introduce gardening to your kids and encourage healthy eating habits for all of us. Plus, it's another fantastic opportunity to experiment with native varieties of edibles to create some new favorites for your table. This list is by no means comprehensive - these are just a few of my favorites that are high yield and easy to grow. Enjoy! Carrots are a highly adaptable root vegetable that grows well, spring, summer, fall and winter. There are as many varieties of carrots as there are ways to prepare them. Consistent watering and soil temperature matched with the appropriate seasonal variety will yield sweet, tender, colorful carrots year round. A couple of varieties that are particularly good for cooler climates are Carnival Blend carrots (which are cold hardy up to twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit) and the Paris Market variety (which grow exceptionally well in containers and mature in about 50 days). I like both varieties because they are exceptionally cold hardy, mature quickly, and can be grown easily in containers. I have both varieties growing in my back yard right now and hope to be able to serve them with Christmas dinner. I'll keep you posted...

Onions are a culinary staple in the kitchen. Just try to prepare a savory stuffing, homemade stock, or garden fresh salsa without onion - it wouldn't be very tasty. I use onions for cooking so regularly that I decided to try growing my own. Onions take a couple of weeks to germinate, so make sure that you amend your soil with compost or manure before planting the seeds. Onions like their soil on the acidic side, so a trip to your local nursery for a pH kit is worth the investment. If you plant your onions in a container (like me), make sure the soil is well drained to prevent rot. Short day varieties of onions do best in our region; short days mean the variety needs less sun to grow. Some popular types are Texas Early Grano or Red Burgundy.

And finally, where would the winter garden be without a beautiful cluster of greens? Greens (like lettuces, collards, kale, and spinach) grow very well in the southern winter garden in both containers and in the ground. They are packed with nutrients and so delicious! Consider a new twist on an old favorite: Plant various varieties of kale and lettuce around the borders and in decorative containers instead of flowering annuals. Greens come in an array of colors and flavors to coordinate with any landscaping theme.

I hope today's post has inspired you to try a few edibles in your winter garden this season. If you have other ideas or success with any of the veggies listed above, I'd love to hear about it. Leave a comment to share!