Autumn Garden Blazes

Autumn in my edible garden is a growing and even blooming season. With a backdrop of blazing fall tree color, cool season vegetables inch upwards like a roomful of nieces and nephews whose growth is notable at a holiday dinner visit.

If family visits our place for a winter feast, some of it will come from the leafy greens and brassicas that flourish in our mild fall maritime weather.

Here are scenes from my autumn garden, with a list of seed sources for these varieties at the end. Happy fall!

Fall peas

The fall crop of Sugar Snap peas is just starting to size up, their white flowers in contrast to the brilliant fall color of the Crape Myrtle tree.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Two Purple Sprouting broccoli plants are set along the edge of a bed, with a cherry tomato plant still trying to produce behind them.

Groninger Brussels sprouts

These Groninger Brussels Sprouts are sizing up nicely. A few more are sprinkled around the garden because, ooh la la, you can’t have too many of these mini winter cabbages!

Kale plus

Russian Red Kale will be very accessible from the front of this raised bed.

Filderkraut cabbage

This Filderkraut cabbage, planted in March, has lots of loose leaves around a surprisingly shaped head.

Cabbage 2

Once the outer leaves are stripped away, the cabbage is much smaller.

Cabbage 3

Connie shows off the gnome’s hat shape of the Filderkraut cabbage. Delightful to look at — and makes a great cole slaw!

Sunday harvest

Red Kuri squash, Jack Be Little Pumpkins, tomatillos and even a few ripening tomatoes in the harvesting hod.

Green Tomatoes

Jaune Flamme produced a crop of tomatoes that are still slowly ripening – maybe one per week. At this rate, a green tomato pie is in our near future.

Mr. Lincoln tomato

Mr. Lincoln was tall and slender, both the president and this plant. One more tomato turning, but still a few that will probably not make it. To honor one of our greatest presidents, we will have fried green tomatoes.

Castelfranco radicchio

Perhaps the most beautiful salad green in the garden, this Castelfranco radicchio is providing tender inner leaves on plants that hung tough during a hot summer. Some went to seed, and the pale blue flowers are floating nearby. Note the leaves of forgotten parsnips that are poking up around this crop.

Castelfranco radicchio

The beautiful flower and intricate seed head of Castelfranco radicchio.

Chard

Peppermint and Rhubarb chard keep on giving, and a row of Early Wonder Tall Top beets size up behind. The chard was planted in March and have provided many cuttings. Clearly there are more to come!

Chard in and out of cloche

Some overwintering chard will be covered by this plastic cloche, and we’ll see if it makes a difference in health compared to the rest of the chard behind it.

Tomatillos

Tomatillos ripen in front of a raised bed cold frame which holds tiny starts of winter “cut-and-come-again” salad greens.

Little Gem lettuce

Little Gem romaine lettuce is growing nicely under a plastic tunnel cloche with zippered windows. But what is the prolific brassica that has sprouted in its bed?

Spinach

Abundant Bloomsdale spinach is protected under the Triangle Tunnel.

Asters

A pot of fall asters brightens the walkway near my vegetable bed and provides pollinator delight.

Squash

Seed sources:

Groninger Brussels Sprouts

Fliderkraut Cabbage

Sugar Snap Peas

Red Kuri Squash

Jack Be Little Pumpkins

Little Gem Lettuce

Abundant Bloomsdale Spinach

Castelfranco Radicchio

Peppermint Chard

Early Wonder Tall Top Beets

Harvest Visit to UW Farm

Biking by the UW Farm on University of Washington’s east campus this week, I was drawn by a glorious field of colorful chard, so I decided to stop and take a little tour.

UW Farm is a teaching space, and it includes not only UW students but other programs, such as Seattle Youth Garden Works, a program for youth to learn entrepreneurial skills as well as the techniques of growing food.

Here are some harvest images of my visit to the farm.

field of chard

Bright Lights chard, in a glorious field.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes growing the Italian style, trained along a single cord coming from overhead. Productive!

Tomatoes pruned to two stems

The tomatoes are pruned to two main stems, which are then trained and tied (if necessary) to line that comes down from overhead. It’s a very efficient way to grow.

strawberrry tower

This strawberry tower is a great design — just needs a few more plants.

Garden Works tunnel

A high tunnel, with door decoration by Garden Works youth.

SYGW mural

Seattle Youth Garden Works created a wonderful mural on the end of this high tunnel hoop house. I was tempted to pull down the weeds in front of the mural, but then I saw birds flitting in and out, eating the seed heads. Best to let nature take its course.

pumpkin patch

A beautiful striped pumpkin is getting ripe in the patch.

Peppers and tomatoes

Black plastic is laid between the rows of peppers and tomatoes, increasing the heat for these hot-season crops and reducing the need to weed.

UW Farm sign

A “compost fence” creates a wall for the UW Farm food processing area, and a chalkboard announces the current crops.

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.

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.

Winter Garden Gets Its Blanket

We are having a White Christmas here in Seattle, with a gift to my garden (and me) of a nice blanket of sparkling snow.

Here are images from my garden today.

Merry Christmas!

yard

A Christmas view of our yard from the house.

brroccoli

Broccoli shoots peek out of the snow cover.

cloches

Glass cloches protect young plants from the snow.

cold frames

A plastic cloche covers lettuce, and a double window A-frame covers overwintering beets.

cold frame closer

The beets are tiny and might handle this cold, but I should have put ends on this double-window cold frame for better protection.

big bottle cloche

A big water bottle protects a young cabbage.

yard with cold frames

Cold frames in the background protect greens, but lots of brassicas fend for themselves under the snow.

Cold frames

The big cold frame in the back and the smaller Triangle Tunnel in the front both contain salad greens. I won’t open them until our warmer weather returns, but the tender greens should be fine. Snow is a great insulator!

dino kale

Dinosaur kale is tough!

parsnip

A Christmas stew is going to contain fresh parsnips, pulled today from the snowy ground.

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