Winter vegetable gardening in San Diego County produces sweet treats to eat. Water droplets hang on tiny sugar snap pea pods and small, white flower petals in the garden. The vines cover fencing usually cloaked in green beans and morning glories. This time of year it's the winter vegetables and herbs like endless loose leaf salads and fragrant oregano and thyme. Several small strawberries hang on by yellowing stems narrowly escaping the squirrels just to be hollowed by rolly-polly bugs once they hit the ground.

Skeleton vines with large red and green roma tomatoes still attached bend under the pressure of massive snow pea plants, curly tendrils latching on to anything in their way. Most of the raised beds are full of gourmet lettuce mixes like red oak leaf, arugula and tender mustard greens. Names like Bull's Blood Beet and Lollo Rossa sound strange but taste sweet and grow into red and green tender sprouts. Winter salad of fresh cut loose leaf lettuce dressed in a light vinaigrette made of vinegar, olive oil, shallot, honey, salt and pepper , add sunflower seeds and tiny bits of blue cheese for a gourmet first course at home.

Herbs are a star in the winter vegetable garden. Flavorful Italian parsely and cilantro are abundant and volunteer where ever the seeds take hold, like small, frilly sprigs of fennel. Fennel has a strong black licorice taste, but the tender three inch sprouts growing right now taste mild and sweet. Young garlic bulbs sprout green tops next to overgrown three foot tall green onions. Mint plants pour out of containers threatening to root and spread like wildfire through raised beds of manicured vegetables.

Tiny leaves are sprouting out of what used to be corn rows, the clover- looking leaves are celery plants just taking hold of the top soil. Brussel sprouts grow large and tall, the miniature cabbages attached to sturdy stalks hide behind large, purple-ish green leaves. The brussel sprout is known for it's unappealing reputation. Roast them in the oven with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice or in a pan of butter and garlic on the stove top for a tasty version of this under appreciated veg.

Work in the winter garden goes by too quick. Maybe it's the shorter daylight hours or the cool temperatures that make hoeing and shoveling seem less strenuous. Artichoke plants started from seeds overwhelm small pots. They look like dinosaur plants, giant, saw-toothed leaves begging for a permanent home in the ground. The wet weather helps to turn piles of plant clippings, shredded newspaper, egg shells and coffee grounds into mounds of rich, dark compost waiting to be added to the growing winter's bounty. The colorful, glossy pages of the new Burpee seed catalog arrived in today's mail. Next year's crop will have to wait, I'm enjoying my winter vegetable garden right now.

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