Many of our crops needed to be pulled before last week’s frost. They just can’t take the cold and are essentially killed in their first exposure to the freezing temperatures.
Our pepper bed, for example, took a hard hit. We did manage to transplant a handful of them for the hoop house, but it was a painful thing to see the remaining dozens of plants, covered in unripe fruit, go all black and wilty overnight. The same was true for the herbs, squash, and tomatoes, as well as the raspberry bushes, lettuces, and fennel.
Some plants, however, are known for growing well (dare I say, thriving?) in colder temperatures and even being able to tolerate frost. This is certainly true of the cabbage family (including broccoli, turnips, radishes, kale, chard, and brussels sprouts) which, as luck would have it, is pretty much what’s left in our garden today. Add to that list parsnips, carrots, and beets, and you have a pretty comprehensive snapshot of what we’re working with on the farm these days.
These plants, unlike their wimpy predecessors, respond to the freezing temperatures by producing sugars. A carrot or parsnip pulled before a frost will not be as sweet as one pulled afterward, for example.
Dave has been anxious to till the parts of the gardens that are done for the season and has been angling for me to get some of those spaces cleared. All the pepper plants were pulled last week to make way for the garlic planting, and today I pulled the beets, a tiny patch of baby carrots, and the remaining parsnips.
Parsnips are funny creatures. Unlike a carrot, which sort of slips out of the ground when pulled, a parsnip seems to hold on with all its got. Parsnips don’t want to come out. Parsnips will fight you every step of the way. They’re like maudlin teenagers locked in their bedrooms listening to Elliot Smith because no one else understands. You have to go in and get them; you have to be gentle; you have to work really, really hard or they won’t come out or, worse yet, they’ll break.
I’ve developed a system for parsnip extraction. I’ve given up on actually pulling them out by the greens. I simply go through and break off all the greens and get them out of the way. They immediately go into a pile earmarked for the pigs and are set aside.
Once this is cleared away, I can get down to the actual business of finding the parsnips.
By digging away the earth on either side of the parsnips, the root vegetable is revealed and I can brush away all the soil to see what I’ve got.
Then, it’s just a matter of moving the soil away from the parsnip enough to get a good grip on it. Gently (remember, gently) working it side to side, the root will loosen and slide out. It is a very satisfying process.
When all was done, there wasn’t a huge amount. What is there will be wonderful, though. We are envisioning a large pot of sweet root vegetable stew to get us through a couple of meals this winter.