Start Now for Fall, Winter Harvest

It seems crazy, doesn’t it? What you want is this:

Brandywine in hand

and if you want to feed yourself this winter, you should be thinking also about this:

Lacinato kale

Oh boy, kale!

Yeah, right now I’m feeling that too.

But consider: plan ahead now, not just for kale, but for the Asian greens, beets, carrots, endive, European greens, lettuce, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips.

Some of those foods will taste very good long after the last tomato has been sliced open. And some take a very long time to cultivate.

So here’s a quick list of what to plant when, with a few suggestions of varieties to try for fall and winter:

  • Asian greens: Plant July-September, harvest October-April. Try Green-in-the-Snow, my friend Carl Elliott’s favorite.
  • Beets: plant July-August, harvest October-March. Try Boro, a flattened globe that is very reliable. Mulch these guys if you’re leaving them in the ground over winter.
  • Carrots: Plant August-October, harvest May-June. Try Merida. Cloche or cover with floating row cover in the coldest part of winter.
  • Endive: Plant June-September, harvest October-May. Try Tres Fine Marichiere. Treat like carrots in winter.
  • European greens: Plant August-October, harvest October-May. Try arugula, corn salad (mache), cress, miner’s lettuce. Treat like carrots in winter.
  • Lettuce: Plant August-September, harvest October-March. Try Black-seeded Simpson, Green Deer Tongue, Little Gem, Continuity, and Red Oakleaf. Cover with a cloche for fall, or protect with a cold frame into winter.
  • Parsnips: Plant March-mid-July, harvest December-March. Try Cobham Improved, Gladiator, or Javelin. They take forever to sprout, and forever to mature, but will sit in the bed a long time and be there when you want a sweet roasted root veggie dish in mid-winter.
  • Peas: for fall, plant by July 10, says my friend Lisa Taylor, author of Your Farm in the City. I agree. You can try shorter-season varieties into early August, for an October feast. For overwintering peas, plant by early September for a harvest between March and May. Cover with floating row cover in fall, or a cloche in winter.
  • Radishes: Plant the winter radish Black Spanish in July and early August for a harvest in May and June. Might need protection from floating row cover or a cloche if we get a hard winter. Let them go to flower, then eat the pods when tender and green.
  • Spinach: Plant July-September, harvest February-April. Try Bloomsdale, Giant Winter or Tyee. Cover with a cloche for winter, and don’t eat the biggest outer leaves.
  • Swiss chard: Plant June-September for harvest in September-May. Try Bright Lights/Rainbow, or Fordhook Giant, the king of the winter chard. Cover with floating row cover or cloche in mid-winter.
  • Turnips: Plant July-August for harvest in October-March. Try Gold Ball or the small Japanese varieties. Mulch in winter. Later plantings may produce only greens.

But, you might ask, where is the kale on this list? Chill out, kale lover. I’ll tackle the Brassicas (kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli) in a future post.

Look at all that food! You have plenty of opportunities to try new vegetables in your garden this year. When a bed comes open as you harvest your summer crops, try one of these as a culinary experiment.

Bon jardinage and bon appetit!

Hummingbird, Meet Broccoli

This is exactly why you let the purple sprouting broccoli go to flower.

hummingbird

Hummingbird

hummingbird

hummingbird

hummingbird

hummingbird

hummingbird

hummingbird

This is an Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna), one of the most common (and yet, not at all “common”) hummingbirds in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve seen them in my garden year-round.

“No larger than a ping-pong ball and no heavier than a nickel,” says the uber-informative All About Birds, the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

They share more fascinating hummingbird facts:

  • Mostly green and grey, the male’s “gorget,” or throat patch, can shine with iridescent pink colors in the right sunlight. The color can extend over the bird’s entire head.
  • The males have a characteristic small white spot behind the eye.
  • During mating season, the males have a “dive display” in which they rise to 130 feet, then plummet down in a matter of seconds, stopping to hover a few feet in front of the object of their display.
  • Sometimes a bee or wasp will get impaled on the sharp beak of the bird, causing it to starve to death.
  • Their normal body temperature is about 107 degrees, but when it’s cold, they can go into “torpor” where their breathing and heart rate slows, and their temperature drops to 48.
  • They have tiny legs and can’t really walk or hop, but they can sort of scoot sideways when perched.

 

Rock Springs Eternal

We didn’t have Earth Day when I was growing up. But we had plenty of earth on our North Dakota farm. We called it dirt.

About this time in the spring, as ground would warm and the snow would melt off, we’d start the planting season by picking rocks.

I’d join my many siblings on a walk behind the tractor, which slowly pulled a shallow steel bin. We’d fan out, each grabbing a stone the size of his or her ability, the older kids teaming up to grapple with the larger rocks. We’d toss them into the bin and enjoy the satisfying clang.

Boy and his dog

Fritz and me, on the farm.

When we came across a particularly stubborn or hefty boulder, Dad would stop the tractor, get out the crowbar, and as many as were needed would grab onto it and heave it or roll it into the bin.

When the bin was full enough, Dad would back the bin up to the rock pile at the edge of the field and dump the load. Every year, the rock pile grew as the frost heaved the stones up from the deep.

That the earth spit rocks at us every year, we did not take personally. It was not a metaphor for the hard life of farming, even if it could have been. It was not a hated chore, although it was a difficult one.

This was just something that had to be done in order to grow wheat. You could not subject the cultivator’s tines or the discer’s blades to a soil full of rocks.

Quinoa

Quinoa going to seed.

My two main vegetable beds in the front yard are ready for planting. I’ve cleared the winter vegetables, forked dolomitic lime into the soil to restore a neutral pH, and covered the bed with a wire mesh to keep the cats out. I even cleared a few rocks that had sunk into the dirt, and placed them in a little pile on the edge of the garden.

This year, the larger bed is going into grain. Not wheat, although varieties are being tested for the western Washington climate. Rather, I’ll be planting amaranth and quinoa, two amazing, colorful and very different edible seeds. I saved the seed from my small stand of each last year, so now I can cover the bed.

It will be great to watch it wave in the summer breeze. It will remind me of the visible wind on the prairie, swathing through the amber grain, flowing like a river.

Practicing Patience in Planting

I can feel the vibe from here: when can we set out our tomatoes? A neighbor already has done it. Gangly plants in gallon-size pots are front-and-center in the stores. The questions go beyond tomatoes, though: how will you get your vegetables off to their best start? And what’s the right timing for planting the summer garden?

How? Season Extension

I’m on the verge of being a nag on this topic, but a great way to ensure a better start is to shelter your spring plantings with season extension devices.

  • Tomatoes and other hot crop transplants will benefit from added warmth
  • Spring greens will also welcome the warmth, especially when sprouting from seed
  • Seedlings susceptible to pests and diseases will gain strength when protected
  • Small plants can be spared the pounding from occasional heavy rains or strong winds (or even hail — we had some a couple of weeks ago)

This Sunday, April 12, 1-2 p.m., I’ll be showing and telling all about season extension at the West Seattle Nursery & Garden Center. I will explain in more detail why these devices help, and then I’ll show off a few of my designs and things sold by the nursery. You can “kick the tires,” so to speak, and think about what might work for you.

Tomatoes in cloche

Putting a cloche over your tomatoes can give them an extra warm start. This is especially important if planting out now. Even though our weather has warmed early, there is still potential for many weeks of cool spring days and chilly nights.

When? Be Conservative

It’s tempting to march out to the garden, clear away last year’s detritus, and just plop everything in the ground — seeds, starts, trellises, cloches. One big afternoon of work and you can just sit back and wait for the harvest, right? Well, maybe. Go ahead and try it. I would counsel patience.

I like to take a couple of steps at a time, slowly building my garden throughout the spring. I do it this way partly because I enjoy the process, and also because things will grow better if planted at the right time. As with so many things, timing is everything.

Right now, my spring greens, root crops and peas are up and growing nicely. I’m still a couple of weeks away from fresh salads, but we’re just finishing the last of the winter salad greens.

Also, I’m clearing and prepping the beds for my hot summer crops. The cover crop and flowering brassicas are coming out, lime is being dug into the soil where needed, and all the old stuff is being chopped up to make compost.

Cover crop being chopped

Cover crop has been chopped down with a hoe (right) and is being dug in with a garden fork (left). This natural fertilizer (green manure) needs two weeks to decompose before planting into it.

Soon I’ll dig in compost and fertilizers, as needed, based on the planting plan.

I continue to plant small quantities of root crops and greens, so that I’ll have a longer continuous harvest of these crops. I eat a lot of them.

What’s Next?

The green manure provided by chopped-in cover crops, and the lime, have to settle into the soil for a week or two before planting. That will bring me to the end of April, which is just about right timing to shake out the bean seeds. Then I’ll think about getting warm-season transplants like tomatoes and peppers in the ground.

By mid-May, those will all be planted, and then I’ll do the last of the summer plantings: squash.

Meanwhile, I am also planning my fall and winter garden. Yes, well before summer has come! By early June, I’ll be planting fall brassicas, and by July, most of my winter and overwintering crops will be in the ground.

All that will be left to plant are short-season fall crops, which will go in after the heat of our summer has dissipated, around late August.

Practice Patience

Mason bee house

Mason bee house

Right now I’m enjoying watching the orchard mason bees. They have emerged from their cocoons and are busy pollinating my fruit trees. Soon they’ll start laying eggs in the holes in my wooden bee house.

If I want to really see all this activity, I need to slow down, and stand or sit near the bee box for a while. (Don’t worry, they’re not aggressive.) My eyes need to adjust to their erratic activity, to see their patterns.

The bees are not working on my schedule. In order to learn from them, I must accustom myself to their ways.

Observance of the natural world takes time. I must take it on its own terms. Growing a vegetable garden also requires relinquishing my own concept of schedules and needs, replacing those with a studied observance of the weather, growth habits of plants, and messages from nature.

Sweet Promises from Fruit in My Edible Yard

Vegetables aren’t the only edibles in my yard. I enjoy growing a variety of fruit, from berries to rhizomatous perennials to fruit trees. Their cheery buds and flowers fill my garden with sweet promises of desserts, jams, ciders and fruit salads to come. Here are more images from the first days of spring.

Sigerrabe grape bud

The Siegerrebe wine grape is breaking bud.

Strawberries in flower

Strawberries are forming flowers and new leaves close to the crown.

Blueberry buds

Buds on the blueberry bushes, with spring ephemeral flowers behind.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is sending out curly new leaves and showing bright red on its fast-growing stalks.

Bartlett Pear

Bartlett pear in flower.

Pear buds

Abundant buds on the Liberty apple tree.

Pear floweres

Exuberant flowers on a pear tree.

pineapple guava

New growth on the pineapple guava, which last year produced two bushels of its tart fruit!

Raspberries

Lush new leaf growth on the raspberry canes.

Plum flowers

Delicate flowers on the Italian plum tree.

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