Celeriac - harvest ready.JPG

Celeriac, a relative of celery but grown for it large swollen root rather than its leaf stems, is a vegetable that does not seem to get much attention.

You needn’t be an ardent weather watcher to know that frost is imminent and may have already occurred at some of the higher elevations. I made it a point this week to complete the harvest of what remained of our tender crops before any chance of frost. That meant picking the last of the bush beans, cucumbers, okra, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash and sweet potatoes. Even without exposure to frost, the quality of most of these vegetables declines with repeated exposure to cold, but above freezing, temperatures. In agricultural circles, this is typically referred to as chilling injury. It is not surprising that the vegetables listed as sensitive to chilly weather are all of tropical or subtropical origin.

Two vegetables which often get mistaken as being frost tolerant are pumpkins and winter squash. Of course, most everyone recognizes that frost kills the vines of these crops, but the fruit always looks like it withstood the cold and are even picturesque when coated with the thin icy glaze. Though there will be little trouble if they are harvested and cooked immediately after exposure to frost, they will soften and decay quickly when put into storage. Cooked pumpkins and winter squash may be mashed and eaten, used in pie or bread recipes, or frozen for consumption this winter.

While pumpkins, squash and the other crops mentioned are not hardy, there are still many crops that can withstand frost. Those tolerant to temperatures in the 28 - 32 F range include beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, celeriac, celery, chard, parsnip, and radishes. Among the vegetables that can withstand temperatures colder than 28 F are kohlrabi, turnips, rutabaga and many leafy greens such as arugula, lettuce, spinach and kale. The harvest season for all of these hardy vegetables can be extended well into winter, especially if they are given some protection. For example, mounding a thick layer of straw over root crops will keep the ground from freezing, thus allowing carrots, turnips, rutabaga, and parsnips to be easily dug. The season for leafy greens may be extended by covering them with row covers or cloches or creating so-called low tunnels from metal hoops or 1/2-inch PVC pipe and clear plastic. I’ve been able to harvest kale through an entire winter using the low tunnel approach.

GROWING CELERIAC  

One of the hardy vegetables mentioned above is celeriac, a relative of celery but grown for it large swollen root rather than its leaf stems. It is a vegetable that does not seem to get much attention and I’ll admit that I have only planted it a couple of times without much success. My lack of success is largely due to a lack of attention to the details of its growing requirements. Celeriac is not difficult to grow but it does take a long time to mature. Ideally, the plants should be started indoors from seed around mid to late March. The seedlings are transplanted to the garden in late May or early June.

Growth is sloooow. It is the swollen root that is sought but development of the root takes a loooong time to increase in size and that is where patience is essential. I think in the past I just gave in, dug up the root too soon, and was disappointed by its diminutive size. This year, I’ve waited and am now being rewarded with baseball-size roots. Since celeriac is hardy, I’ll only harvest as needed and will leave the remaining plants in the ground well into fall and may even cover them with straw. As with many root crops, the flavor of celeriac improves with exposure to frost. Harvested roots may be stored in a cool, dark, but airy spot.

The first celeriac roots I harvested this year were thinly sliced and added to a tossed salad. The flavor of celeriac has been described as being akin to that of mild celery. My next dish using celeriac will be a stew or soup.

Growing celeriac has taught me to be patient and pay attention to details.

Here are other tasks requiring at least some attention to details:

Dried beans in mason jars

Finish shelling dry beans and then store the beans in mason jars along with a desiccant packet or oxygen absorber. However, reserve about ¼ pound of each bean variety to use as seed for next year’s planting.

  • Finish shelling dry beans and then store the beans in mason jars along with a desiccant packet or oxygen absorber. However, reserve about 1/4 pound of each bean variety to use as seed for next year’s planting.
  • Don’t worry about trees and shrubs that may be blooming out of season right now. Several people have told me that their forsythia is in flower. This is not unusual when we have a prolonged warm spell in autumn. There is no harm done but do not expect these plants to flower next spring as it is too late to form new flower buds.
  • Place potted herbs under a fluorescent light if they are getting leggy. Usually, natural light from a window during the fall and winter is not enough to keep these sun-loving plants happy. (I know how they feel.) One exception is mint. It can tolerate the diminished light of winter.
  • Use several different products in an alternating fashion if using repellants to deter deer from dining on trees and shrubs. If only one product is applied to plants, the deer will eventually become used to it.