Final Harvest of the Year

Thanksgiving is only two days away, and with the help of The Organic Gardener Jeanne Nolan, we’ll be able to take our remaining crops—Brussels sprouts, beets, rainbow carrots, and the mix of greens growing under our season extension—from the garden to the Thanksgiving dinner table. 

At first glance, the crops in the garden looked dismal, with the stems of the beets and rainbow carrots flattened beneath a layer of snow and the kale plants—that once stood upright—flattened against the soil. While it may have appeared unsightly, the plants were still edible.

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“The kale has shriveled a bit, but they’re still edible,” Nolan said, adding that these crops should be cooked rather than consumed raw. “They’ve gone too far.”

Since it was the end of the season for these kale plants, Nolan removed them from the garden by cutting the stem of the plant as close as possible to the top of the soil. Normally, at the end of the season, she would remove the roots of the plants. But since the ground had frozen, she chose this method in order to prevent from having large divots in the garden bed.

After cleaning up the kale plants, it was time to harvest the beets and rainbow carrots. Nolan used a trowel to harvest both of these crops. If the ground had not frozen, she would’ve harvested the beets by hand, pulling them out by their stalks. 

“There was a cake, a frozen layer, on top of the soil. I needed to use a trowel to loosen the soil,” Nolan said. “When I was pulling them out [with the trowel], there was like a brick of soil clinging to the beets. I had to bang them with the trowel to get the soil off.”

Earlier this season, we hilled our beets which allowed them to last this long into the season. If we hadn’t hilled the beets, they would’ve been spongy.

After the carrots and beets were removed from the garden, Nolan twisted off the tops of the plants. Like the kale, Nolan recommended cooking the beets rather than consuming them raw.  

The other uncovered crop that needed to be harvested was the Brussels sprouts. Once again, Nolan removed the plant by cutting the stalk at its base as close as possible to the top of the soil level. To remove the individual sprouts, Nolan popped them off the stalk.

“Depending on the time of year, you can just pop them off the stalk,” Nolan said, adding they could also be removed using a knife by cutting the sprout at its stem on the stalk.

While our uncovered crops were all able to be harvested, not all of the crops planted beneath the season extension could be.

“It got a little colder than I expected the last time I was here,” Nolan said. “Our most cold-tolerant crops—spinach, kale, and some lettuce—are totally edible. The tatsoi, chard, and arugula didn’t make it.”

Nolan removed all of the plants that didn’t survive beneath the season extension by pulling them out—roots included. As for the crops that fared well, Nolan cut a handful of them for Chicago Tonight staff to enjoy.

She left plants of spinach, kale, and lettuce to continue to grow over the winter. 

“We’ll leave some because some may live,” she said. “Some might make it through to the spring, and then we’ll have a bit of a head start on the season because we’ll have growth and roots.”

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