Cover Fall Edibles Now

In my Seattle garden, fallen leaves are drifting up around the edges of my vegetable beds like Technicolor waves lapping at the shore. Time to deploy the season extension.

This time of year, nature is getting ready to go dormant. Despite the occasional warm, sunny day, the weather pattern is changing. Shorter days (and longer nights), cooler temperatures, glorious rain, from drizzle to downpour, all signal the change in plants. Growth slows down. Cell walls begin to thicken in the plants, mirroring our defensive layers of fleece and wool.

Stave off the inevitable decline in your vegetable garden by covering those plants that are actively growing. The ones that will feed you salad this fall can be nursed along for a few more weeks if covered with a cloche or a cold frame.

Three devices

Three season extension devices protect fall and winter crops: hoop-house cloche, triangle tunnel and cold frame.

The root crops that are going to be overwintered will be aided by a blanket of garden fleece, also known as floating row cover. Later this fall, you can pull off the FRC and cover those beets and carrots with a cloche, giving them more protection during our coldest time.

dome hot cap

The last of the summer basil crop is nursed along under the dome hot cap.

The kale, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts will benefit from a top-dressing of compost and straw mulch, between the rows and around the plants. This step can be taken for all the fall and winter veggie plants, but isn’t as necessary for those under a cloche or cold frame until the weather really reaches our daytime winter temperatures of 45 degrees. Still, I often do this now around my salad greens too, just since I’m out in the garden with the straw at hand. It’s often more pleasant to do it on a nice fall day than try to wait for a break in the winter rains that will take hold in November.

The main reason to do this season extension and mulching work is to protect our plants from the colder temperatures, pounding rains and desiccating wind.

A few weeks ago I put in a late batch of lettuces and raddichio into a long hoop-house cloche. With the unseasonably warm weather, I’ve been able to take that off for days at a time, and the veggies are nearing harvest. Now that rains and cooler weather are predicted, I’ve put it back on again.

Often at this time of year I’ll set up the cold frame over a bed with starts. It’s amazing to check the soil temperature inside the cold frame and in the bed next to it. Inside the bed, the temperature of the soil will be well above 60, while in the open garden the soil temperature is inching down toward the mid-50s. Capturing that warmer soil temp, keeping it from dropping so fast, is a key benefit to season extension.

cold frame

My Twinwall cold frame is keeping the fall salad greens robust.

Also this week we’ve had a couple of days of significant rain. At times, it’s come down pretty hard. A soft rain is great for watering the beds, and I open the season extension devices for a few hours in early afternoon if a light rain is coming down. The best situation is a nice soft rain for an hour or two, followed by a clearing and light breeze, so the plants dry out. Regular moisture on the leaves and stems of fall veggies can promote rot. If I can’t get the timing right to open the season extension during a light rain, I hand-water the beds as needed.

And I always keep the devices closed during a heavy rain. Over time, heavy rains will compact the soil, leach out the nutrients, and reduce those soil temps — all things I’m trying to avoid. Score another benefit for season extension.

floating row cover

Fall beets and carrots are growing nicely, and bug free, under a layer of floating row cover.

The winds are also gusting this time of year. Combined with cooler temperatures and rain, the wind can be hard on tender vegetable crops. The worst effect is when it blows the top layer of

hot caps

A couple of unusual kales that were struggling are getting a boost by being covered with glass hot caps.

mulch away from the base of the plant, exposing the plant’s fine root system. Those roots will dry up, making it tough for the plant to survive, much less grow. Such stress will invite pests, and can trigger the plant’s desire to bolt and go to seed.

One final idea concerning season extension: what’s good for the plants is also good for the pests. In this sense: the pests love the warmer, drier location too. I’m picking a lot of slugs and snails out of my season extension devices right now, and off the plants. I need to be diligent about this, because they’re all drawn to the warm place with plentiful food. As the temperatures continue to drop they’ll become less of a problem, but right now, I need to pay attention if I want to keep those fall crops around for my autumn dinners, and not just be feeding the pests.

new cloche

I’m having fun with my commercial-made cloche. The long single-row device has an internal wire frame and zippered vents with mesh.

Fall in the maritime garden is a time to appreciate our weather. The change is usually not abrupt, giving me a chance to also adjust my own pace to the slowing rhythm of nature. But the decline into winter is inevitable, which is another lesson. At this pace, it seems more possible to stay in the moment, enjoying the color and patterns of those fall leaves as they naturally mulch the margins of my garden.

 

Shirley’s Beet Pickles

If your beets are sizing up, or you can get a big batch of them at a farmers market, how about making some tasty pickles? This is my mother’s beet pickle recipe, simple and yet delicious.

Beet Pickles

And of course, since it came from her and it is food I loved as a child, it always takes me back to my North Dakota farm roots.

I don’t know what variety beets she grew, but for pickles I like to grow Detroit Dark Red or Early Wonder Tall Top for the rich burgundy color.

Ingredients

  • 5-1/3 cups cooked beets (about 6 large)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1-1/2 cups vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon, broken
  • ½ teaspoon whole allspice

Directions

Remove beet tops, leaving 1 inch of top. Boil the beets in lightly salted water. When tender enough for a knife to pass through them, drain. Cool the beets in icy water, slipping the skin off them while they’re still hot. When cool, cut into 1-inch chunks.

Simmer the water, vinegar, sugar and spices for 15 minutes.

Pack the beets into jars and cover with liquid to within 1/2 inch of the jar top. Process for 30 minutes in a hot water bath.

Makes 3 pints.

p.s. For details on growing successive plantings of root crops, including beets, for fall and winter, see my column in the July-August, 2016 issue of Edible Seattle.

Holiday weather blues? Don’t despair, plant!

It was the best of weather, it was the worst of weather.

Memorial Day Weekend in Seattle will bring up brooding Dickensian thoughts. What should herald the start of summer here often disappoints. When all you want to do is take your kids hiking, go to a music festival, wheel off on a nice long bike ride, or simply just host a BBQ, you have to look to the skies, and judge the depth of the grey.

Why, then, would I start this post so optimistically? The best of weather, by what standards? Well, my Brussels sprouts love it.

Brussels sprouts seedlings

These Brussels sprouts, sown on May 7, got potted up to 4″ pots this week, and will be ready for the garden by mid-June.

At this stage of the year—what I call mid-spring in my catalog of mini-seasons—I am engaged in a garden tug-of-war. Part of me wants to grow the fattest red tomato on the block, so juicy it drips down my shirt. I want big pepper plants heavy with spicy pods. Some years, I even yearn for a stand of corn.

But my muscles yank me back to cool-season crops too, and possibly more to reality. Mid-spring is a time for struggle on the part of my tomato plants, and the peppers can stay under cover or fight for their survival. But it’s a glorious time of growth for cool-season vegetables. They celebrate this dreary holiday weekend weather like twirling hippies at a Phish concert.

And now, when you’re focused solely on getting those hot crops of summer in the ground, let the cool breezes of a maritime spring clue you in: time to give those long-season vegetables of next winter some love.

Tomatoes and Peppers in Greenhouse shelves

The tomatoes are getting leggy, and the peppers aren’t getting any younger in their pots. But the greenhouse shelves work great!

Here’s a quick list of what to sow now in pots for planting out in June and July:

  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage (winter)
  • Parsnips

And here are some things to plant directly in the garden in mid-July for fall and winter eating:

  • Collards
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Kohlrabi
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnip

There are many other, shorter-season veggies that can be sown later in the summer and into the fall for fall and winter eating, but for right now, instead of trying to jump-start summer, skip over it and look to fall. Put on a Dead record and rave on with your brassicas.

Final presentation at City People’s

Many Seattle gardeners are mourning the impending loss of City People’s Garden Store on Madison, which got the land sold out from under it for the inevitable mixed-use development. It was the first nursery I used when I moved to Seattle in the mid-1980s, and I still hold it fondly in my mind. When it closes at the end of this year, it will be a major loss for city gardeners. I will miss it.

I’ve been giving a series of edible gardening talks there for years, and my last talk is coming up next weekend. On Sunday, June 5 at 11 a.m. I’ll do a seminar on starting long-season vegetables. Hope you can join me, support the store with some purchases and give City People’s a proper send-off.

Gardeners’ Question Time

I’m not Bob Flowerdew, but tomorrow I get to play him on the radio.

You’ll get that reference if you’re a fan of the British radio gardening show Gardeners’ Question Time. I get the BBC 4 show via podcast, and greatly enjoy the experience of listening, learning and laughing along with their panel of witty experts.

And tomorrow, I get to channel a little bit of Mr. Flowerdew (yes, his actual name) on the KIRO radio show of Ciscoe Morris, Seattle’s own version of a beloved expert radio gardener. Gardening with Ciscoe is on at 11 a.m. every Saturday on 97.3 FM.

Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe’s program can also be heard via podcast, in case you’re not near a radio on Saturday mornings or not within range of KIRO’s towers.

Interestingly, many of the gardening questions posed to Ciscoe and his guests could be lifted (minus the lilting British accents) from GQT. Our Maritime Northwest climate has a lot in common with the mild climes of the British Isles. I often hear advice on that show that is applicable to my own yard–another reason to listen, if I needed one. For example, the British grow familiar vegetables on a similar timetable in their “allotments” as we do in our P-Patches.

GQT has been educating and entertaining gardeners since 1947, inspired by the country’s postwar “Dig for Victory” campaign, similar to the “Victory Garden” program in the U.S. that urged people to grow food as a method of self-sustainability during wartime. Its amazing longevity can be attributed to the British love of gardening, although you could say that it has contributed to their perennial plant fever.

As proof of my GQT fandom, I even have attended a live taping. Amazingly, the GQT’s website provides the proof. Two summers ago, my wife and I took a walking trip in England, and after strolling the farms and gardens of the Cotswolds, we ventured to Wales for a weekend to attend GQT’s Summer Garden Party at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.

In this photo on their website, you can clearly see me in my green shirt (and Susie next to me) to the left of the sign, waiting for the taping to begin. We were present for the taping of two shows, but alas did not get any of our questions chosen for consideration by the panel.

And what an amazing panel of experts on their stage. Flowerdew, Bunny Guinness (which reminds me, Happy Easter!), Pippa Greenwood (you can’t make these names up!), Toby Buckland, Chris Beardshaw, James Wong and other panelists are certainly pedigreed.

Guinness is a landscape designer who has won six gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show (and is the niece of rose breeder David Austin). Beardshaw is a landscape architect, BBC television garden program host, and was a judge at this year’s Northwest Flower & Garden Show (also presenting some delightful seminars). Wong is a botanist, and Greenwood is a plant pathologist. Buckland heads London’s oldest plant nursery. Flowerdew is one of England’s leading organic gardeners whose family has been farming in East Anglia since the Tudors ruled the land in the 1500s. All of which makes me realize that I should study more and work on my credentials.

Although I can’t hope to match either the panel’s expertise or their wit (a recent edible gardening discussion devolved into testing the soil temperature by getting naked in the garden to decide whether it is warm enough to plant), I will try to pass on my vegetable-growing tips and inject levity where possible in with Ciscoe’s banter. He’s a great host, an expert in just about everything green, and a fun person to chat with, and I always look forward to the show.

So listen if you can, call in if you’d like, and don’t worry about the weeding. As they say on GQT, “you’ll be back to the garden in 45 minutes.”

Here are a few photos from the National Botanic Garden in Wales, which is about an hour north of Swansea. It’s an amazing place you should visit if you ever get the chance.

Favas & Garlic: Savory Spring Recipe

The garlic has just begun its sun salutations. Bouquets of fava bean leaves are catching the Garlic and favasspring rains as they emerge on sturdy stems. The promise of these two early summer delicacies is just coming into leaf, but already it’s blooming in my mind. What awaits is a rich, savory saute of succulent beans and fiery garlic in butter and oil.

So it’s a little early yet, but I’ll share one of my favorite recipes:

Fava Beans in Spring Garlic

Ingredients:

4 handfuls of fava bean pods (pick when the pods begin to droop on the plant; use immediately, as the bean’s sugars will turn to starch in 1-2 days)

2 heads spring garlic (pull while tops are fully green and perhaps 12 inches high; choose plants that have ended up overly close to their neighbors, thus enabling the adjacent plant to fully develop its bulb)

3 T olive oil

3 T butter

Directions:

Shell the beans, and drop the bean seeds all at once into a pan of boiling water (enough to cover). Swirl and cook for a very short time, perhaps 30 seconds, until the beans begin to turn brighter green. Use a sieve to quickly remove the beans and drop them into a bowl of icy water to stop the cooking.

As the beans cool, pluck them from the water and pinch off their rubbery outer skin. It will be loose and easily removed, the bean slippery within. Use a knife to cut a slot in the skin if necessary to pop the bean out. Discard the skins and reserve the beans to dry.

Rinse and trim the garlic. Discard the outer green leaves. The young garlic bulb will not have differentiated cloves, and you will use the entire thing, plus some of the greens. Roughly chop the garlic into half-inch chunks.

Warm the olive oil in a saute pan to medium heat and add the garlic to the sizzling oil. Cook the garlic for a minute or so, tossing regularly, until limp and giving off a pungent odor.

Add the fava beans. Add the butter. As the butter melts, stir to coat the favas. Reduce heat if sizzling and cook for up to five minutes, testing the beans for doneness. When the beans have softened and can easily be speared with a fork, remove from heat.

Sprinkle with sea salt and eat immediately. Serves 2 people.

 

Worth waiting for

I love this recipe for its simplicity, and its fresh taste of spring. In fact, watching these plants develop is one of the joys of the spring season.

Young garlic, pulled before the bulb has had a chance to differentiate into cloves, has an onionlike texture and a flavor that is equal parts spiciness and grassiness.

Fresh fava beans, freed from their tough, grey seed coats, seem to be equal parts sugar and substance. Once cooked, they retain a meaty toothsomeness like the interior of a firm baked potato, but with only a light starchiness.

It’s too soon to be whipping up this recipe, but I mentioned it in my column in the current issue of Edible Seattle. (If you’ve come to this site because of the column, thank you for supporting that fine magazine!) You might not have these two crops growing in your garden right now. Plan to grow them next year, and this spring, look for fresh favas and young garlic at your local farmers market. The dish is worth the wait.

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