For those who read this blog, it will probably not come as a big shock to learn that the season switch means something quite different to me than it does
to Lowell. While I can appreciate the feeling of emotional release from ripping out a garden, I really enjoy gathering data from the crop requests that we get from our members. In some ways, this data is a confirmation of a preference set that grocers understand well. However, I think we learn something even more interesting: what crops are truly spectacular when harvested from a home garden, where freshness is vital and heirloom seed varieties introduce flavors that simply aren't available at the grocery store.
To make this pile of data a bit more comprehensible, I have clustered crops with similar characteristics. Here are the four clusters of crops that we observed in the requests:
- The usual suspects - broccoli (81%), carrots (77%), snap peas (70%), and red/green salad mix (63%) - were selected by a majority of members and frequently identified as favorite crops.
- The staples - garlic (77%), bunching onions (56%), cilantro (56%), parsley (51%), red (60%) and golden (65%) beets - were almost no one's favorite but were still selected by a majority of members.
- The polarizing crops - bok choy (33%), green curly kale (37%) and collard greens (19%) - were not the most popular crops but those members who selected them were likely to identify them as favorites.
- The newcomers - radicchio (19%), daikon radish (7%) and napa cabbage (23%) - do not have large followings yet.
We were also able to glean favorites within each type of crop:
- Orange carrots were requested more frequently than colorful carrots, although I have sampled the purple haze variety we are growing this year, and I wager those who requested colorful carrots will be pleasantly surprised.
- Snap peas beat out snow and yellow peas.
- Golden beets were slightly more popular than the red beets. Perhaps others, like myself, have been enjoying them on Julia's beetza recipe.
- Purple cauliflower was selected more than cheddar or white cauliflower.
- Red onions beat out white onions, although it's really hard to go wrong with any of the aromatics. Our members who are gourmet chefs raved about the flavor of these crops, so it's no surprise that they were so popular.
The yearly process of tallying our winter crop requests reminds me just how exciting the winter growing season is in Southern California. Farmscape is currently growing 48 different varieties of vegetables, along with at least a dozen custom requests from our members. Because winter crops take up so little space, it's easy to sample a huge number of these diverse crops. There's a wide range of great flavors in the winter garden, ranging from the old-fashioned turnip to sweet-spicy arugula. Plus, the winter crop palette includes the most nutrient-dense
crops that we grow.
Although summer gardens and their show-offy tomatoes get the most attention, winter gardens are more diverse, subtle, and perhaps more rewarding. Many people don't think to install a vegetable garden at this time of year; some gardeners even let their soil lay fallow during the winter season. Don't let the Christmas music on the radio fool you into thinking it's too cold to grow great food. We live in Southern California, why let our spectacular climate go to waste?