HELEN LANG: Early vegetables recommended as winter ends

Almost the end of the bleakest month of the year but it hasn’t been a bad month as winter months go.

Almost the end of the bleakest month of the year but it hasn’t been a bad month as winter months go.

No snow, no ice, no really stormy weather.

I better stop gloating or I’ll bring down on us some terrible, howling winds, mixed rain and snow — possibly lightning and thunder.

I remember a winter not too long ago when we did have a winter thunder storm which was scary, being so unusual and loud. I guess it was pretty exciting, if you like lightning, but personally I’m not a fan.

When I was young I recall a wild thunder storm near the summit of the Malahat where my grandfather had a logging camp.

I was sleeping in a cottage reserved for visiting relatives when lightning struck a big tree nearby. I was amazed the next morning to see the long jagged tear in the bark only feet away from where I had been lying (and not sleeping).

The thing that I recall with delight during that storm, was the sound of my grandfather whistling  merrily as he walked past the cottage to make sure the chickens were safe.

He raised those birds to be sure he had eggs with which to make the wonderful pancakes he fed the logging crew and his beloved grandchildren.

I adored him!

Let’s see now, what can we plant in January?

There are the broad beans and, if you dare, early peas and perhaps radishes.

All weather signs point to an early spring. The West Coast seed catalogue recommends Sugar Ann as the earliest green pea to mature (56 days).

Another pea, the Cascadia, does not need staking and matures in 67 days.

A word of warning might be appropriate right now. Please, if you have a heavy soil, (living in Sidney on Melissa Street, we did) wait a while to dig or you may end up with what my dear neighbour Hazel called “clarts” (big chunks of wet soil which seems to be glued together like cement, slow to break down into individual bits of garden-ready earth).

This would be a great time to go down to the nearest beach and collect seaweed, including those long golden whip-shaped pieces (kelp). If you are nervous about salt, you could spread it (on the driveway) and hose it off before spreading it on the surface of your vegetable bed(s).

I never bothered and grew a pretty satisfactory garden.

I used to use the sharpened hoe to chop kelp up — before digging it in — to encourage it to decompose before planting anything.

This isn’t really necessary as the emerging vegetables don’t seem to mind their seaweed companions.

Island View Beach provided us at one time with masses of seaweed, especially after a wind storm. And there is that lovely view, while you scoop up the good stuff.

My dear husband, Jim, wasn’t a gardener, but the idea of getting something for nothing appealed to him.

He felt the same way when I persuaded him to bring the scissors and come with me to gather nettles in early spring. He didn’t feel the labour entailed in gathering either, as being worth counting, bless him!

We may not have saved a lot of money, but it was fun and the wild vegetables were not only delicious, but full of vitamins and minerals.

I like the whole idea of living off the land, eating what nature has provided — the vegetables, berries and the fruit.

Have you ever made blackberry jelly, using the small wild berries that are murder to pick? They do make a fantastic jelly that you won’t find in any grocery store.

And what about the huckleberries, salmon berries, black caps, wild crab apples, rosehips, mushrooms and those tart and delightful wild strawberries?

There are probably many more that deserve mention.

I wonder about chickweed. It looks edible and my pots are full of it, so it is tempting. One of my kids suggested I look it up on Google and I would if I knew how to access that silly child-like name … Google. It’s worse than hop-Scotch, but handy when you know how to use it, I suppose.

I’ll let you know if chickweed is edible. It must be the earliest green and my pots are full of it.

If it is edible and tasty I may open a shop.


Helen Lang has been the Peninsula News Review’s garden columnist for more than 30 years.

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