Walking with a friend through her country garden recently, I raved about the long, lush rows, and she commented that her husband loves to plant, and gets all excited over the seedlings in the spring. I can feel that, but why leave all the thrill behind until next year?
In our mild climate, late summer is a great time to get fall and winter vegetables in the ground, and recapture that feeling of spring. You can even sow some veggies now that you’ll be eating next spring, with a technique called overwintering.
In the first two weeks of September, especially with the weather we’re having, many gardeners can still plant fall salad greens. You’ll have more success if you have a warm microclimate and raised beds, or if you’re willing to cover the crop with a cloche or cold frame. And to get a good start, pay close attention to keeping the bed lightly moist as the seeds germinate – a challenge if the weather continues warm and dry.
Lettuce will pop out of the ground now. I’ve seen germination in as few as 4 days, compared with 10 to 14 days in the spring. They may get a great start, but if the weather turns cool, their growth will slow down. After all, the days are getting noticeably shorter now.
Expect to cover your more tender greens by early October, and keep them covered to protect from frost or heavy winter rains.
So prepare for fall salads by planting a mix of hardy lettuces, from cut-and-come-again leaf varieties to butterheads that will form loose bunches or small romaine varieties. I like Green Deer Tongue, Marvel of Four Seasons, Little Gem, Rouge d’Hiver, Merlot, Winter Density and Winter Marvel. These will keep well into the new year with protection.
One technique that I borrow from Thomas Jefferson is to plant lettuce in succession for a longer harvest. Our esteemed horticulturalist president advised people to plant a thimbleful of lettuce every Monday. A bit too much for our home use, but the theory is sound: plant a pinch of lettuce seed every week or so through the fall to keep the harvest coming.
Go beyond lettuce to the many other hardy fall greens too.
Corn salad is a very tender leafy green that is surprisingly hardy in the garden. Plant it in September and October and you’ll be eating its juicy leaves through winter and into spring.
Asian mustards are stars of the Maritime garden in winter. Start them in the ground or in flats through September for greens all fall, winter and spring. Sow several types for variety. Look for an Asian stir-fry mix in the seed racks,
or try these varieties: Mizuna, Green-in-the-Snow, Osaka Purple, Tatsoi and Komatsuna.
Arugula, aka Rocket, is another spicy, leafy green to sow now. Like mustard greens, it will stand in the garden without protection through most of our winter weather. You’ll be harvesting its peppery leaves all winter, and then get spicy flowers early in spring.
If you see kale or collard starts in the nurseries, you can still try those as well. Transplanted this late, they probably won’t achieve their full potential, but rather overwinter as small plants. You can snip a few leaves, but in the spring they’ll shoot up and go to seed, producing wonderful edible flower buds.
Finally, spinach varieties such as Winter Bloomsdale or Savoy can be planted now for overwintering as small rosettes, and you’ll get an early spring crop. They will need to be covered with a cloche or cold frame to keep them from straggling.
Clear some space, head to the nursery for seeds or starts, and take some time to plant fall greens now, so as summer comes to an end, the sowing thrill will not be gone.