Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Winter Wonderland

The Green LIONS Garden Group has been hard at work preparing the LIONS Garden for winter and also enjoying its winter offerings. At our last 2012 meeting before the holiday break we talked of the history of the winter solstice and what it means for farmers and gardens. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, the darkest day of the year in our area, but also signifying the return of the sun. The return of the sun means the return of the life force in a garden. This day is celebrated in many ways around the world but a reverence for nature is at the core of most celebrations. We celebrated by making edible birdseed ornaments for the birds or squirrels in our community.

During this time of year many birds and squirrels are depleted in important nutrients since bugs and worms are not readily available. If you have bird feeders, it’s important to keep them filled. My own family adorned a tree in our yard with these ornaments and after they eventually fell to the ground, a family of happy squirrels carried them off to enjoy the combination of birdseed, gelatin, and flour.

At this same meeting we sampled our Daikon and Easter Egg radishes. We also prepared the garden and our new blueberry and Vitex bushes with leaf mulch thanks to Farmer John of New Earth Farm. It’s important to not leave garden soil bare for long periods of time no matter what time of year, so leaf mulch protects the climate in the soil until we can plant again in the spring.

Our winter garden was ready to share its last crops of cabbage, broccoli, and kohlrabi so at our meeting this week we sampled all three in a hearty vegetable soup. We also had plenty of harvested crops for everyone to take home something to share with their families. See further in this post for a general recipe.

We were also fortunate enough to have Deedra Dills of Dills Architects, and also Green LIONS Garden Group parent representative, speak to the students on energy sources, energy conservation and sustainable building practices. The students were very interested in Ms. Dills slide show and asked many questions throughout the presentation. Ms. Dills spoke of the many innovative ways that Dills Architects uses sustainable building materials and practices in their designs, like zero-run-off sites where no rainwater is wasted, solar energy, recycled materials and much more. She also related to the students in how they can conserve energy themselves at home and in their lives. Providing kids with examples of how they can be environmentally-friendly empowers them and makes them excited about caring for the planet. Thank you Deedra for your wonderful, thorough presentation.

The soup was was not made by a recipe but below are the general directions and the ingredients we chose to include. This soup can be modified for taste in a multitude of ways.

Vegetable Soup

1-2 large onions, chopped
4 ribs of celery, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and chopped
broccoli florets, chopped from roughly 1 head of broccoli
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 medium head of cabbage, chopped
6-8 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, or water, amounts may vary depending on taste
1 bay leaf
1 Parmesan rind
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the onions with a little salt and pepper in a large pot over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes. Keep the heat low enough so that the onions begin to caramelize but not burn. Turn the heat up to medium and add the celery and carrots. Saute until they begin to soften. Add the kohlrabi, broccoli and squash. Cook a little longer. Add the cabbage and the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for around an hour, or longer if desired, until vegetables are cooked through.

Note: saving the end rinds of Parmesan when you have used all of the cheese in a bag in the freezer provides an easy way to add nice flavor to soups and stews. Allow the rind to cook in the soup but remove before serving. Enjoy!

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