By Les Harrison and Shelley Swenson
The cool days and cooler nights of December have removed home gardening from the minds of many residents in Wakulla County.
Much of Florida’s commercial vegetable production has moved to warmer counties in the extreme southern part of the state.
However, the holiday season has refocused the attention of many to thoughts of family and life as they were growing up.
For most, remembering youth resurrects memories of traditional recipes and family members famous for a unique dish.
Tender, leafy greens have been a staple for many families during the cooler months of the year. Most grow well in North Florida, and the seed are inexpensive and easy to find.
There is a selection of species and cultivars to fit almost any taste. Add that old fashion preparation with the family’s secret seasoning and the diner is suddenly transported back in time.
Mustard greens and turnip greens have a strong following with kale gaining popularity for its taste and health benefits.
All grow well in Wakulla County and can provide a fresh, nutritious menu option.
Greens are the best food source of vitamin K. They also contain calcium, magnesium, Vitamin A, folate and fiber and provide nutrients that help build and maintain strong bones, maintain eye health, control cholesterol and may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Additionally, eating foods with folate before pregnancy helps lower the risk of delivering a baby with neural tube defects.
Wash all greens well to rinse off any dirt clinging to the underside of the leaves.
Store unwashed, wrapped greens in a damp paper towel in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator and use greens within a week.
All of these leafy greens are member of the Brassica genus. Depending on the species, they have been consumed by humans throughout recorded history in one form or another.
Kale, which has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, has been noted in the written records of Greece for more than 2,400 years.
Today’s gardener can select from a wide variety of curly or straight leafed kale originating from many different countries.
Mustard is thought to have originated in Europe and Asia. Settlers coming to the New World, both North and South America, brought the seed along with their recipes from home.
Records indicate turnip production and consumption extend back 3,500 years and, like mustard, developed somewhere in Europe and Asia.
Depending on the cultivar, in addition to the greens the bulbous root is eaten too.
Cultivation is relatively simple. The tiny seed are distributed in a row during autumn or early winter (in Wakulla County) and covered with one-quarter inch of soil.
Beds with a rich organic base will better support the growth of these greens and more easily maintain the necessary moisture.
Seed should germinate and sprout within a week.
The gardener will likely need to thin the plants if the seed are planted too close together. This should be done a week or two after sprouting so as not to disturb the roots of the remaining plants.
Disease and insect problems are relatively few, and are heavily influenced by the weather.
Aphids can be a problem, but there are a variety of methods, organic and conventional, which will control them.
The leaves can be trimmed one at a time to extend the life of the plant or the whole plant can be harvested and prepared.
Either way, a tasty, healthy dish awaits.