Charging Into Winter Gardening

If you’ve tackled a big garden project on a hot summer day, you know how fast you can drain your internal batteries. The heat seems to sap it out of me. But as weird as it may seem at the height of summer, right now we should be recharging our garden’s batteries with some new plants for winter.

Peas in a pot

I planted peas in this pot next to my compost pile, and now they’re ready to be moved into the sun and under a trellis.

In the Maritime Northwest, August and early September are great times to plant. I’ll tell you what seedlings I’ve got in pots and in the ground right now, and what you can get from the nurseries in the coming weeks if you don’t want to sprout your own.

If you can start from seed, I recommend it. It’s amazing how quickly seeds will sprout in a summer garden. Parsnips, which are notoriously finicky seeds, sprouted in just four days during one of our recent warm spells. And they came up in such a prolific little forest that I had to get down there and do some serious thinning.

I’ve also started Brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, beets, carrots, peas and arugula.

Beets

Beets and other seeds will sprout fast in warm summer soil. Be sure to thin to proper spacing. These beets need to be thinned to 4 inches apart.

Of course, with warm days and no rain, I’ve been hand-watering the seedlings to supplement my automatic watering regimen.

What to start now

Greens:

  • Arugula
  • Asian greens (mustards, bok choi, tatsoi, shungiku)
  • Corn salad (aka mache)
  • Cress
  • Endive/radicchio
  • Lettuce (Marvel of Four Seasons, Continuity, Merlot, Red Oak Leaf, Green Deer Tongue, Forellenschluss, Little Gem… so many – plant a rainbow salad!)
  • Swiss chard

Brassicas:

  • Broccoli (fall)
  • Broccoli raab
  • Cauliflower
  • Kohlrabi
  • Kale (choose Lacinato, aka Dinosaur/Palm Tree, the best tasting of all)
Dino kale

The best tasting kale, and very reliable in a mild maritime winter.

Roots:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Radish (winter varieties, like Black Spanish)

Alliums:

  • Leeks

More alliums go in later this fall, but you can plan now. Leave space for garlic and shallots.

Seeds or starts?

Most of these plants can be directly sown into the garden, and many of them can now be found as starts in good quality plant nurseries. I always recommend planting root crops only from seed, not transplanting.

If you’re starting from seed and want more control over the plantings, consider starting many of these in pots. It helps you keep a better eye on the seedlings to keep them well watered. You can move a flat of pots into the shade on hot days, or even protect them under some hoops and floating row cover for extra shade and to maintain soil moisture.

greens ready to plant

A flat of salad greens, ready for planting.

When space comes available in the garden and the plants have grown enough to establish hearty roots, you can transplant them. Remember that transplanting in summer is pretty stressful on young plants. Do it on a cooler, cloudy day if you can, and pay extra attention to watering until they’re showing new growth. You can also move the starts to a very large pot and keep them growing there until harvest.

Peas under a trellis

We’ll have plenty of peas for fall. I planted this batch along the house where spring salad greens had been.

More for fall

Also, plan ahead to fill the space when summer vegetables are done. Purchase a supply of cover crop seeds (often sold as a blend, which is a good way to go) and have them on hand to throw down when you pull out the tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc. You can plant a cover-crop blend up until late October.

If you have crops coming out even later, plant fava beans. They can be sown into early November and will reliably sprout in that late-fall cold soil.

Happy Seed Year

“Happy New Year!” When I hear that, seeds come to mind. The new year’s first month is when I plan my garden, fueled by favorite seed catalogs.

In this month’s “Edible Garden” column for Edible Seattle magazine, I offer glimpses into my annual plunge into the seed catalogs. I’ve written about this before in a series on this blog as well–here’s the first one. I took my writing inspiration from Katherine White, whose “Onward and Upward in the Garden” is a funny, perceptive, classic read.

The arrival of colorful seed listings literally whets my appetite, and I dig into my canned veggies and winter garden when browsing the offerings. Sautéed kale pairs quite nicely with down-home Territorial Seeds, while pickled beets (my mother’s recipe) brightens even further the glossy Seed Savers Exchange catalog.

Since Edible Seattle wouldn’t let me take over all their pages to wax poetic about seed companies, I’d like to offer links and comments on a number of favorite catalogs.

SSE's Prickly Caterpillar

Entry for Prickly Caterpillar in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog.

Here are some of our stellar bioregional Pacific Northwest growers:

Adaptive Seeds — They seem to have a little of everything, including a number of tomato varieties unknown to me. Till now, that is.

Bountiful Gardens (a project of Ecology Action) — This is the seed catalog of the non-profit garden educators. Check out their collection of plants that will create habitat and food for beneficial insects, one of founder John Jeavons’ important messages.

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds — What started as potatoes (those Irish eyes!) and garlic has blossomed into a full seed company. But still, check out the spuds!

Kitizawa Seed Co. — They offer the broadest selection of Asian vegetable seeds, which means I can try two or three new mustard or choi varieties. Happy 100th anniversary to the Kitizawa family business!

Resilient Seeds (& Backyard Beans & Grains Project) — Resilient offers a curated list of legumes and grains that grow well in our climate. I’m excited to try their Overwintering Fava, which they say has more tender skin that eliminates the need to peel.

Territorial Seed Co. — The giant in our midst, this full-line vegetable seed company always has a couple of pages of new offerings, as well as nearly all your old favorites.

Uprising Seeds — One of my fave newer companies, Uprising offers a wide variety of seeds, including the Felder cabbage mentioned in my Edible Seattle article that’s going into my garden this year.

Victory Seeds — They focus on rare, open-pollinated and heirloom seeds, a wonderful combination.

Wild Garden Seed — This treasure offers many “farm originals” that have been bred for our region. The catalog also includes an annual essay from Frank Morton, whose Wild Garden Kale mix has become a staple for me. It’s always interesting to see what he’ll come up with next.

 

And here are some valuable companies outside the Northwest:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds — With the most amazing print catalog (a real work of art) and a penchant for quirkiness, this company also sells unusual heirloom seeds not found anywhere else.

Botanical Interests — The providers of my recently unearthed gigantic parsnip, this company has a full array of vegetable seeds, sold in beautiful packaging.

Fedco Seed Co. — This Maine-based company focuses on cold-hardy vegetables, which is a good angle for our maritime growing season.

High Mowing Organic Seeds — Serious about organics, this company provides high-quality seeds and sells to commercial growers as well. They grow much of their seed on a 40-acre farm, and have more than 40 new varieties for 2017.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds — Another Maine company, this one 100% employee-owned, was a pioneer nationally in garden seeds.

Seed Savers Exchange — This revered non-profit leads the heirloom seed movement and, through their extensive seed bank, offers thousands of little-known varieties. I urge gardeners everywhere to support this organization as well as to try some of their unique varieties.

I know this is not an exhaustive list (although a bit exhausting, when you pile up all the catalogs on your desk!). If you sell seeds to home gardeners and want to suggest I add you to the list, please contact me.

ps: If you’re crazy about seeds too, come to our Great Seattle Seed Swap at the King County Seed Lending Library. It’s the last Saturday in January in north Seatt.e

Inspiration, Seed Swaps Focus of Upcoming Events

The season starts early for a cool-season gardener. Not just the planting season, but the speaking-at-events season too. I’ll be at nurseries, garden shows and seed swaps in the next month, evangelizing about getting your edible garden underway.

Seed swaps first

This Saturday I’ll be hosting the Great Seattle Seed Swap up on Phinney Ridge. This first one happens on National Seed Swap Day, and is the first of four area swaps — three in Seattle and one in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Brussels sprouts in pots

I’ll also be at the Snoqualmie Valley swap on Feb. 6. At both, I’ll be giving a short talk as well as staffing a table for Q&A and seed research.

The King County Seed Lending Library has received a wonderful donation from the Organic Seed Alliance of Port Townsend. They sent copies of their recent book, The Seed Garden, for each of our locations. What a resource! It’s comprehensive, easy to use for research and a great read. The book was co-published with Seed Savers Exchange, another essential resource.

OSA also sent a generous supply of their locally adapted Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed and phacalia tancetifolia, which has a flower that’s a pollinator magnet.

Come to the swaps to see the book and get the seed!

Nurseries coming

Before the swap on this Saturday I’ll give my first nursery presentation of the season, up at Swansons Nursery in northwest Seattle. It will naturally be about starting seeds, but also focus on soil-building at this time of year. And I’ll throw in some ideas about where to get inspiration for this year’s garden.

I’ll do another talk at Swansons on Feb. 27 on special techniques to get the most out of your veggie plot.

In March I begin my annual four-class series at another great Seattle nursery, City People’s Garden Store. I’ll head down to Madison Valley for the first talk on March 12 about starting the early-season garden.

Portland on tap

I’m getting out of town, too, with a pair of talks at the Yard, Garden & Patio Show in Portland. Walking the human-scale display gardens at this show always energizes me to try something new in the garden.

Get a book

At all the talks and shows, I’ll have my two books, Cool Season Gardener and Edible Heirlooms, available for sale, and I will happily personalize your copy with a signature.

I’m doing a special signing at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Find me at the University Book Store booth #211 on Friday, Feb. 19, 3-4 p.m.

Hope to see you at an upcoming event!

Quinoa, Orach Harvest

What do quinoa and orach have in common? Along with being planted in large patches by me this year, they are both members of the Chenopod (Chenopodiaceae) family. They also both are beautiful, adding striking swaths of color to the garden.

Another thing they had in common is that I recently harvested both of them from my garden for seed.

Quinoa heads

“Brightest Brilliant” quinoa delivers yellow, orange and red seed heads. Purple orach stands behind it.

I planted purple orach and Brightest Brilliant quinoa. It was a two-year plan. Last year I had small quantities of the seed, and wanted more, so I planted both and saved their seed. This year, I could plant a miniature field of them. Felt like I was back on the farm.

When I realized that both plants were part of the same family, I understood better why I was so attracted to them. The Chenopods also include two of my other favorite garden veggies, beets and chard, which also provide striking reds and oranges to the vegetable garden.

I’ve always connected orach with a third Chenopod, spinach. In fact, orach is sometimes called “mountain spinach.” Orach delivers smooth, thick leaves on a long stalk. We plant thickly, then thin the plantings and strip the leaves off the stems. It seems best for salad when the leaves are still young and tender, but the older, larger leaves can be enjoyed if lightly steamed.

It surprised me to find that quinoa is also part of this clan. To my knowledge, it’s the only family member whose seed is part of the plant that we consume. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in gnawing on a mouthful of spiky, tough beet seeds.

Quinoa’s small, round seed puffs up nicely in hot water to make a pleasant light grain that can be the base of a salad or used in a pilaf-type dish. It pops softly between the teeth. It takes quite a bit to include in a meal — at least a half-cup of seed — so my goal this year was to grow enough to do that.

Drying seeds

Quinoa and orach plants are cut and hung on an improvised drying rack. A sheet beneath will catch the drying seed.

I haven’t yet stripped the seed off the drying quinoa plants. I have a hunch that it’s going to be a challenging job to clean the crop, and I’ve read that it is a bitter seed unless repeatedly washed.

But we did eat a lot of orach this summer, and have enough seed to cover the “back 40” next year. That’s probably the case with the quinoa too. And as beautiful as the two were together, I can always just replant them for the color.

Fall Planting Continues

In my last post, at the height of a summer hot spell, I thought it would be fun to say “Winter Begins Now” and show the garden with snow on it. Well, the heat has abated, and I’m not in any hurry to slip out of summer mode. However, I am still pushing forward on fall planting.

The Japanese turnips — first sowing July 15, second sowing July 27 — are coming along.

Succession planting of turnips

Succession planting of turnips — the ones in front were planted first — will give me a longer harvest.

Japanese turnips

Japanese turnips will be harvested young, when their white bulbous roots are only 1-2 inches around.

A sowing of beets was less successful, as I had some three-year-old seed. But some of them sprouted, as did a nice row of  Rainbow chard.

Rainbow chard starts

Rainbow chard, seeded three weeks ago, is small but healthy.

Rainbow chard

Rainbow chard planted in June, sizing up nicely.

The first sowing of Brussels sprouts got potted up to 4-inch pots about 10 days ago, so they were ready to be planted out. The second batch is still in pots.

Brussels sprouts in pots

Brussels sprouts are starting to size up and be ready for transplanting into their winter home.

So today I sowed in some more beets, transplanted those Brussels sprouts, sowed two rows of Black Spanish radish and two rows of overwintering red onion.

I covered all the crops except the onions with hoops and floating row cover. This helps shade them a bit if we get another heat wave, but I did it more to keep the pests off the young plants. The white cabbage moth can lay a lot of eggs and wreak havoc on brassicas, and the spinach leaf miner loves to attack the young beets and chard. (Soon I’ll plant fall and overwintering spinach, and will have to cover that too, to thwart the leaf miner.)

Here are some more images from today’s gardening:

Brussels sprouts transplanted

The first batch of Brussels sprouts, sown on 6/24 and potted up on 7/27, got planted in the garden today. I put fiberglass hoops over their bed, then covered that with floating row cover.

Beets planted on July 15 came up sporadically - some old seed. After thinning to proper spacing, I sowed more seed today to fill in the rows. These will be covered by hoops and floating row cover to deter flying pests.

Beets planted on July 15 came up sporadically – some old seed. After thinning to proper spacing, I sowed more seed today to fill in the rows. These will be covered by hoops and floating row cover to deter flying pests.

Beds with floating row cover

Turnips, Brussels sprouts, winter radishes, chard and beets are all under floating row cover to give them a better start.

Flies courting

Uh-oh, what’s going on here? Cue the Barry White music – there’s some colorful fly courting happening.

Mustard seed pods

Seed will be collected from this drying Ruby Streak mustard for next year’s crop.

Little Gem lettuce flowering

Little Gem lettuce has flowered and is going to seed. I’ll collect it for next year.

Kongo kohlrabi

Kongo kohlrabi, ready for harvest.

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