December gardening notes

Gardening Notes by Tomese Buthod, Jefferson County Cooperative Extension Master Gardener

Vegetable and Ornamental Gardening

Another year of gardening is coming to a close.  For the first time in my gardening life, I actually got the veggie garden put to bed for the winter!  It was a little heart breaking to do, but I pulled up the tomato plants several weeks before I normally get around to it – which means usually I am doing in truly freezing weather with frozen ground – not fun and not really a good idea.  I took advantage of a lovely Autumn day and got everything pulled up and either in the compost bin or in the yard waste to be taken away, and since then I’ve been putting can after can of shredded leaves all over the bed.  I am very much looking forward to checking the difference in my garden soil next spring, after I finish working the broken down leaves into the soil before planting time.

I realize you have all probably gotten rid of your leaves by now, but in case you have one of those oak varieties that hangs on to its leaves long after every other tree in the yard gave them up – those leaves are gold for the garden.  If you can shred them somehow – either by running your lawn mower over them or with an actual leaf shredder – take advantage of them as free food for your garden.  I really can’t say enough about how much good they do for your soil.

And is it just me, or have the seed catalogs started arriving weeks earlier this year than in years past?  I’ve already received 3 or 4, and they are tempting me like crazy to set everything else I need and want to do in this holiday month and just sit down with them and a mug of hot tea to find what new veggies will tempt me for the 2015 garden.  So far I’ve resisted, but their siren song is getting stronger!

Since it is such a quiet time in the garden, I’ll leave you with a soup recipe that takes advantages of some of the offerings still available at the farmer’s market, such as the most beautiful cilantro I’ve ever seen.

This is a soup from Deborah Madison – quite the queen of vegetable cookery.  You can add some cooked sausage or ham or bacon to it if you want it even more hearty.  Serve with it some good crusty bread and you’ve got a wonderful supper for a chilly December evening.  (And bonus – keep this recipe for the spring and summer – you can serve it room temp or chilled.)


1 cup lentils (any type but red – they break down too quickly)

large onion, diced (about 2 cups)

 4 Tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. toasted ground cumin

½ tsp. ground coriander seeds

2 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. medium-grain rice

~A few pinches of red-pepper flakes

1 big handful of cilantro, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)

1 smaller handful of dill, roughly chopped (about ½ cup)

12 cups (about 9 to 10 ounces each) packed greens, such as chard or a mixture of greens (see Note, below), chopped into 1-to-2-inch pieces

~ Freshly ground pepper

~ plain yogurt, or fresh lemon juice


  1. Rinse the lentils, then cover them with boiling water and let stand while you gather and prepare the rest of your ingredients.
  2. Heat the oil in a wide soup pot. Add the onion, give it a stir, and cook for about 5 minutes to soften. Stir in the cumin, coriander, salt, rice, cilantro, and dill, and cook another 5 minutes or longer, then add the greens. Give them a stir, then drain the lentils and add them, along with 8 cups water or stock.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the lentils are sufficiently soft. If they soaked, it shouldn’t take much longer. Taste the soup for salt, and season with pepper.
  4. At this point you can serve the soup just as it is with a dollop of yogurt (or in the Spring, try a Sorrel Sauce- you can find recipes online pretty easily), or you can purée the soup, ending up with a dark green soup that’s neither too thin nor too thick. Stir in the finishing yogurt or sauce or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice into each bowlful. Or if it’s just you, plan to eat this soup all week and feel the better for it.


The greens can be almost anything, but the goosefoots — chard, spinach, beet greens, and others — are particularly good. You needn’t stick to just one type of green; a mix is very delicious. 

As always, If you’ve got gardening questions, call the Jefferson Co. Cooperative Extension at 502-569-2344.  Download or print the latest version of the Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky booklet at  This tool is invaluable as you plan your garden – no matter if you are a seasoned gardener or a first-timer.  You can send questions to me at about your vegetables and I’ll do my best to answer, but I can’t swear that I’ll be super timely with a response – if the weather is decent I’m in the garden and nowhere near my computer!