Gently Go Into Autumn

If you’re focused on growing food year round, you might almost forget the idea of putting the garden to bed. But it is still a good concept, for a couple of reasons:

1. You probably won’t have the time or energy or desire to keep your entire garden growing year round.

2. Soil needs to rest periodically, so that nutrient levels do not get entirely depleted.

Mulched lettuces

If you have a fall lettuce crop started, surround the plants with a straw mulch to protect them a bit in cooler fall weather.

As the summer vegetable garden fades, use cover crops and mulch to protect the soil over winter.

Cover crops:

These will help build soil as well as keep the soil well-covered so that winter rains or winds don’t damage it. They also provide a habitat for soil critters.

Mulch:

There are various types (straw, leaves, compost, sheet-mulch layers), and they all will help keep the soil from getting compacted by rain or dried out by wind, and provide a habitat for beneficial soil organisms. As they break down, they add carbon to the soil as well. Caution: You don’t want to provide a habitat for rats or other vermin. If you see signs of that, remove the mulch.

Garlic under leaf mulch

Planting garlic and then covering it with a leaf mulch is an easy fall project. Lay welded wire mesh atop the leaves to hold them in place.

Burlap bags:

These are available from coffee roasting companies and some nurseries or hardware stores. Laying these on the soil helps protect it from pounding rains, and keeps the soil a little warmer for the soil-dwelling critters.

 

Two simple growing steps

If you want to have something growing in the beds that won’t require any work, including harvest, here are two simple things to do:

* Grow some garlic! Plant it in late fall and harvest it mid-summer. Use a light mulch like straw or leaves over the bed after planting.

* Let the flowers be. If wildflowers have grown in around your veggies, don’t remove them when pulling the vegetable plants out. Some will reseed and even sprout this fall, and others will sit dormant until spring. Scatter a light compost mulch over the bed to encourage them.

 

More ideas in class

Want to delve more deeply into ideas about putting some of your garden to bed? Join me this Saturday, Sept. 20 at 10 a.m. at City People’s Garden Store in Seattle’s Madison Valley, for our final class in the Edible Year series, “Preparing Your Edible Garden for Winter” will offer more ideas and techniques to gently ease your garden into another season.

 

Perfect Fall Planting Weather

Your favorite nursery might have a large seed rack with notations like this one:

Seed rack

They also should have a number of starts of excellent brassicas, greens, leeks and other fall and winter vegetables.

Does that clue you in? Now is the perfect time to get many fall and winter vegetables in the ground.

I’ve just transplanted my Roodnerf Brussels sprouts starts, and I purchased a six-pack of Rubine sprouts for a little variety. I also have rapini — broccoli raab — going in, as well as kohlrabi and two types of kale. All those are starts that are 4-6 inches tall and have just a handful of leaves.

Right now you can start beets from seed, direct-sown in the soil. A few weeks ago I planted three types of beets, just a half-row of each. Then last weekend I filled out the row, while thinning the baby beets to wider spacing. I also added a handful of radishes, planted on a grid 4 inches apart.

Soon it will be time to plant overwintering carrots. My favorite variety is Merida, which you can see from the picture is available in stores. I want the carrots to get a few sets of leaves before winter, and then they’ll go into stasis surrounded by a nice mulch. In spring, they’ll shoot up and give me a very early, sweet and crisp harvest.

Brassicas, of course, are the star of our winter garden, and transplants of many types and varieties can be set out now. Sprouting broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and collards can go in.

Many greens can be planted now. How about a nice big batch of spinach? Make sure to amend the bed with lots of compost when seeding that in. Also sow Asian and European greens in succession for the next month to get a continual salad harvest up to Thanksgiving.

Saving Seeds, Planting Now: Weekend Talks

How do you save seed from a favorite tomato? Will bean seeds dry fully in the yard? How do you keep birds from gobbling all your flower seeds?

Black Spanish Radish

Black Spanish radishes and their edible pods.

Those practical issues, along with a bit of science and philosophy behind saving seeds, will be the topic of my talk this Saturday at City People’s Garden Store in south-central Seattle.

“Saving Seeds of Your Favorite Edibles” is the sixth of seven classes in our Edible Year series. It’s 10-11 a.m. Please pre-register with the nursery.

On Sunday I’ll head the other direction, both literally and figuratively. Going north to Swansons Nursery, I’ll give a slide show and presentation on what to grow now.

In “Edibles for Fall and Winter” I’ll detail what crops you can get started now from seed, what to look for in the nursery, and when to plant them for fall and winter harvests. We’ll also discuss “overwintering” crops that you start now and plan to eat next spring. That talk, also free, begins at 11 a.m.

Contest alert: $1,000 Available

CPGS-contest-small

Do you work with a community garden that could use some new supplies, or has big plans for next spring but could use plants? Then you should apply for the City People’s Garden Store Urban Garden Contest! The chosen entry will get a $1,000 gift card that can be used at the nursery over the next year. Deadline is Aug. 31, so there’s still time to apply.

 

 

Garlic Harvest: Inner Chef Says Thanks!

I knocked my head against a hanging braid of garlic the other day, and instead of the predictable response, I had to smile. That ceiling rack in the garage holds the spice of many meals. And the harvest is the result of nearly effortless planting.

Four garlics

Garlic is harvested in late June to early July, when about a third of the leaves have turned brown.

Please grow garlic. It’s so easy, and it’s so good.

In a post last November, I went through the steps of planting it, which is done at the end of fall, when there’s plenty of open bed space and not much else happening, besides watching the winter vegetables grow.

I planted four varieties of garlic, one head of each. They went into 6-foot-long rows. Here’s

Garlic drying

My garlic hangs in a corner of the garage to cure, from twine attached to a welded-wire grid on the ceiling. Softneck varieties, in the foreground, are braided. Hardnecks are hung upside down.

what is now hanging in my garage, finishing the drying process so it will last me through the winter:

Inchelium Red — This is a softneck garlic with fairly large heads of 12-15 cloves each. I got 10 heads, but 6 are somewhat small and immature.

Spanish Roja — My favorite garlic, this Northwest heirloom (sometimes called Greek Blue) is a hardneck that provided us with a nice meal of “scapes” this spring, the flower heads that you cut when they curl up out of the center of the plant. The yield was 13 heads, with about a third of them smaller than expected.

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes are the curly seed-heads that emerge from hardneck garlics in mid-spring. Cut them to send more energy to the bulb, then steam or stir-fry them for a fresh spring garlic dish.

Killarney Red — A new variety for me, this hardneck garlic shows a soft apricot color beneath its papery skin, belying its name. I haven’t peeled any yet, so a brighter red might  be under there. It yielded 8 heads, uniformly on the small side of medium.

Lorz Italian — This reliable softneck garlic braided beautifully. It also produced 10 wonderful heads of a generous size, two of which had irregular bulbils growing along the stem.

Those irregular growths on the Lorz, as well as two or three heads that came out of the ground soft or damaged, went straight to the kitchen to be used immediately. The rest are pretty much dry now, and soon I’ll cut them down and store them in mesh onion bags, hanging in a dry, cool spot in my basement. As I go to grab a new one for cooking, I’ll run my hands through each bag to make sure none have gotten soft in storage.

There are few edibles easier to grow than garlic. Plan now to devote a space in your winter garden to this spicy allium. Next year, the chef in you will thank me.

Who’s Got Next in 3 Open Beds?

I took inventory last weekend and found three spaces in my vegetable garden that are ready for the next crop rotation. Right now, at this crucial time for getting the fall and winter garden going, I have at least that many choices of crops to start.

Lettuce in flower

We had many salads off this lettuce bed, but now it’s regrown and gone to seed. I’ve enjoyed the stately flower stalks, but now it’s time to rotate fall peas into this space.

Space #1: The Garlic Bed

The garlic came out in early July, so this bed has been sitting “fallow” for a few weeks.

Location: The garlic filled the west end of a large bed. It gets good summer sun, but is fairly close to a tree and some bushes, so the lower angle of the winter sun causes part shade.

Strategy: I’ll plant some root crops in succession, starting with beets. It’s a big bed, but I will only plant one short row each for the next few weeks, using different varieties with 50-65 days to maturity. In September, I’ll fill the rest of the bed with carrots for overwintering. The shorter-season beets will be ready by late September, but the longer-season ones will hold in the bed well into winter (with a bit of mulch), getting sweeter with the fall frosts.

Bed prep: Last week I dug a light dusting of complete organic fertilizer into the soil, and covered the bed with a welded-wire mesh so the open soil doesn’t become a cat’s litterbox. Before I plant, I’ll spread an inch of compost on the soil and dig it in.

Since both of these crops are susceptible to flying insect pests laying their eggs on the plants (carrot rust fly and spinach leafminer) , I will cover the entire bed with a floating row cover (FRC). To make it easy to tend and harvest, I’ll set up cloche hoops and stretch the FRC over that. If we get unusually early frosts, I can switch to plastic to protect the plants for winter.

 

Space #2: The Pea Bed

We had a great year for peas, with a harvest longer than normal. The vines just got pulled last week. Annual flowers and some spreading thyme crept in around the pea trellis.

Location: This is a very visible bed right by the main path to my deck.

Strategy: I want Brussels sprouts here. Sprouts are a long-season crop that will not mature until December or January, and I like to have them in a visible spot so I can watch the sprouts develop.

A few weeks ago, I started Brussels sprouts from seed, and the plants are quite small, with just two sets of leaves. I’ll hold them in the pots for another week and then plant them.

When it comes time to plant, I will hedge my bet  by going to the nursery and buying some starts, and will interplant them with the ones I started from seed. That will give me a second variety too.

Bed prep: I’ll pull up the annual flowers (now gone to seed) and dig out the thyme. Since neither the flowers nor the peas are “heavy feeders,” soil fertility in this bed should be fine, so I don’t need to fertilize. But, since brassicas like a rich soil with good water retention, I’ll dig in some compost, which will also boost fertility a bit. I’ll also use FRC over the young plants to ward off the cabbage moth.

 

Space #3: The Salad Bed

This spring I sowed a mixed bed of lettuces and other greens, which produced well and gave us salad from April to mid-June. We enjoyed the buds and flowers of the arugula and mustard greens, but those plants bolted first. Then the lettuce turned bitter, and now the plants have shot up and are going to seed. Since lettuce produces a beautiful large seed head, I’ve been letting them stand in the bed.

Location: This is part of a raised bed off the lawn. The trees have grown up in this area, and with the position of the summer sun, the bed now gets shade about half the day. It gets good winter sun after the deciduous trees have lost their leaves.

Strategy: The part shade should be great for a crop of fall peas. These can be planted through July, so I’ll get them in the ground soon.

Bed prep: To prevent the curious, omnipresent crows from yanking the seedlings out of the ground, I will put a layer of floating row cover over the bed. This should prevent slug attacks too, and will keep the seedbed moist during germination, a key to successful summer planting.

 

Who’s got next?

Well, that’s the plan for three beds and four crops. But there are so many more choices coming: fall salad greens, overwintering kale and sprouting broccoli, Asian winter greens, collards, turnips, kohlrabi, fava beans, cover crops…a long list.

But almost as long is the list of beds that will be free soon: carrot bed, potato bed, onion bed, last-of-the-kale bed, buckwheat cover crop bed, and the quinoa and orach bed. Later, more space will come with the harvest of rutabagas, squash, peppers and tomatoes.

During the height of summer, fall and winter are on my mind. And as I pull out mature crops now, I’m getting more than a summer dinner. I’m getting valuable real estate for the next rotation.

 

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