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From the Field: Turning $8 transplants into $100 worth of kale

Addie Broyles

We’re supposed to get another freeze this week, but after the 12 degree morning we had earlier this month, I’m feeling pretty confident that my vegetable garden can handle it.

After a backyard chicken hiatus that lasted a few years and resulted in the destruction of my previous gardens, I started gardening again in October, planting more than a dozen cold weather crops in two beds in my backyard.

Almost three months, many of those plants aren’t just surviving, but thriving in this colder-than-usual winter.

I have two varieties of kale (curly leaf and dinosaur) that are going gangbusters right now, to the point where I had to swap out kale for sweet potatoes in my CSA box over the weekend. (More on that addition to our kitchen soon.)

At $3 or $4 a bunch, I probably have $50 worth of kale in my backyard right now. Considering the transplants cost me about $8 total and I’ve already harvested $30 worth, I’d say I’m getting a pretty good return on investment for what might be the hottest leafy green around right now. I’ll be able to harvest leaves from those plants for at least another month or two.

Even the sugar peas are doing well, which is surprising given how long we were below freezing a few weeks ago. The rosemary, lavender, cilantro and spinach are also doing well, as are the spicy salad greens that took hold before the cold set in, but I might have lost the lemongrass to the freezes. The crop of carrots, radishes and beets has been only so-so, but they are mostly there so that they kids can have something fun to pull while leaving my other plants alone.

At the end of winter break, I planted a few varieties of regular lettuce (good for you if you can eat an entire salad made out of the spicy stuff!), and just a few weeks later, the seeds have already sprouted.

Now that the winter rains seem to have subsided, I’ve had to water more than I did during November and December, but I’m pleased at how well the plants seem to be doing despite the short daylight hours and sub-freezing temperatures.

I’ve said this again and again, but I’d rather tend a backyard garden in a Texas winter than a Texas summer.

Thankfully, my heartier-than-expected plants this year aren’t making me eat my words.

How are your winter gardens doing? Are you gearing up for spring and summer crops?

A note: From the Field is a new print/online series about eating, cooking and growing seasonal produce. My first print column on the subject will appear on Jan. 29.