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Fall plantings, summer's lessons

As promised, I converted my garden from summer to fall last week. Once again, the raised beds are wrapped with row cover fabric to protect the Brassicas from cabbage white caterpillars. Meanwhile, the compost bin is overflowing from all of the spent tomato and gourd vines as well as okra and chile pepper bushes.

Since the lid won't close right now, I had to cover the compost bin with a tarp. By next spring, I will have so much compost that I'll have to give it away.

I have to admit, I felt a little sad to say goodbye to summer. This year, I saw my garden at its most lush and verdant ever. But I can't feel sad for long because I have so many successes to be proud of:

  • Thanks to Mighty Greens, I had kale and collards all summer long. In years past, I planted these greens in March as an early spring vegetable, removing them in May to make room for summer plantings. This year, I didn't plant them until mid/late April and kept them all summer. It turns out that kale and collards are biennials, plants that are programmed by their DNA not to flower or go to seed until the following spring. I've seen it in my garden previously that fall-planted kale and collards will bolt (produce flower stalks) almost immediately as soon as the weather warms in spring, as if to say "we survived the winter, time to make babies!" And now I've seen spring-planted kale and collards go all summer long and into the fall, without flowering, because they did not experience the winter season. True, the groundhogs seem to like kale as much as I do and a few harlequin bugs had found my collards by September, but not before I had made several batches of stuffed collards with them.

  • Tromboncino squash: A++, will grow again. A delicious and highly productive vegetable that requires a large trellis to grow. The groundhogs liked this one too, so I just have to be sure that the vines stay off the ground next year. It was untouched by squash vine borer.

  • The snake gourd was slow to start, but it took off once it got really hot. The variety I grew this year is no longer listed at Baker's Creek (I recall that it had negative reviews about being difficult to germinate), so I will grow the one from Kitazawa next year, which I've grown successfully in the past. Inspired by The Chinese Kitchen Garden, I want to try fuzzy melon next year as well.

  • I did overcrowd my trellises a bit, so I probably won't grow bottle gourd again next year. It's also an enormous vine and the gourds can become too tough to be edible if you don't harvest them in time (you can make birdhouses or other crafts with them instead). Due to overcrowding, I didn't get any cucumbers and only a few yardlong beans. Next year, I'm thinking of growing Persian cucumbers in containers, allowing the vines to grow along my back porch railing.

  • I'm also thinking of growing next year's okra in containers. The okra suffered due to this summer's strange rain pattern of dry, deluge, repeat. It was the deluge part that got to them, but since containers tend to dry out faster than in-ground plantings, I've got an easy fix for next year.

  • My summer stalwarts of cherry tomatoes, chile peppers, and basil all did fine and they will return next summer. I also planted a few unused containers with bush beans, which also worked out great.

So what did I plant for fall and winter? An exhibition of USDA zone 7 cold-hardiness. The survivors of last winter's polar vortex were leeks, turnips, and rutabagas, so they're in for this winter. I feel like these three root vegetables are under-appreciated, but it doesn't have to be that way. Leeks are versatile in that they can be treated as an aromatic herb to season a dish or they can be the main event themselves. The trouble with buying turnips and rutabagas at the grocery store is that they are often sold as unappetizing waxed lumps, removed of their delectable greens. By growing turnips and rutabagas at home, you get to enjoy the whole vegetable. I like the greens sauteed, in egg dishes, and in soups whereas I like the roots roasted or in hearty stews.

For reasons that I cannot recall, I didn't plant kale last fall, so I'm correcting my mistake this time. Russian varieties are more cold-hardy than my preferred Dinosaur kale (aka lacinato kale, Tuscan kale, or cavolo nero), so I planted 'Red Russian.' Chinese mustards are also cold-hardy, so I planted 'Green in the Snow.'

Salad greens are cold-hardy too. I planted Sylvetta arugula, my favorite lettuce mix, and 'Watermelon' radishes. The radishes won't go all winter (the roots would turn tough and woody if left in the ground anyway) so I interplanted them with Chinese mustard...the mustard will appreciate the extra space to grow after the radishes have been harvested.

I've also got cool-season annual herbs: parsley, cilantro, and dill. Most of my front yard perennial herbs will continue growing, albeit slowly, right through the cold weather as well.

I will post photos as the seeds sprout and the seedlings grow. For now, there's not much to look at.

#fall #winter #vegetables