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 anchor a corner of one bed, with the plastic tunnel cloche filled with salad greens fronting the neighbor bed.

Honinger 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.

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!

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.

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.

Taste Spring at the NW Flower & Garden Show

I can almost taste spring. Can’t you? When a warm wind casts across the yard like a fishing line tossed into a lazy stream, I cast my eyes toward the ground, seeking shoots and sprouts. When they appear, my spirit soars.

.pea shoots

Another way to get that feeling is to visit the giant Northwest Flower & Garden Show–excuse me–Garden Festival being held this week at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle (blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest).

Over the weekend I was in the cavernous show garden area helping set up the Arboretum Foundation’s always-enticing garden, so I’ll give you a tip: brave the crowds, traffic and parking, and come on down. It looks like it is going to be a blooming success.

Here’s another tip: buy your tickets online before 11:55 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21 and get the early-bird price, $5 off.

Display garden 2016

Giant colored pots lit from within highlighted one of last year’s display gardens.

I’ll be there a few times during the week, and look forward to meeting readers and gardeners. On Wednesday, I present “Eat Your Year: Month-by-Month Actions for Continuous Edibles” at 6:45 p.m. slide snapshot

I’ve mined my garden journal for cultivation and harvest tips throughout the year. You’ll be surprised what can be done in the doldrums of winter, and what needs to be done in the sweetest swell of summer if you want to eat from your yard year round. A book signing follows, and I look forward to personalizing a book for you.

Then on Saturday at 11:45 a.m., I employ my journalism chops by interviewing Seattle’s star restaurateur Tom Douglas and his business partner, wife and chief farmer in the family Jackie Cross. In “The Learning Curve,” we’ll discuss their quest to generate perfect produce for their many restaurants.

If you’ve eaten at Etta’s, Dahlia Lounge, Seatown, Serious Pie, Tanaka San or one of Tom’s other great restaurants in the last few years, you’ve probably eaten produce from Prosser Farm. Six years after breaking ground in the hills west of Prosser, they have learned much (I’ll ask about the rascally rabbits!) and Tom Douglas logonow deliver a significant amount of vegetables for the restaurants from their farm, taking the farm-to-table concept to a wild new level.

Tom will sign copies of his excellent cookbooks after the talk, and I’ll head up to the University Book Store’s booth (#211) to meet and greet and sign my own books for an hour, 1-2 p.m.

You might also find me at my publisher’s booth. The Mountaineers Books and their green living imprint Skipstone will have their books on display and for sale (booth #2354) and will have lots of authors as well as staff to visit with. Learn about recent and upcoming titles, including my next cycling book, Cycling the Pacific Coast: A Complete Guide, Canada to Mexico, which will be out this fall.

I hope you’ll consider attending one or both of my events, but do you realize how much there is to do at the show?

  • Attend one of the 110 seminars and demonstrations going on throughout the show. Besides learning and being entertained, you’ll get to sit down and relax after touring the giant exhibit hall and display gardens.
  • Speaking of which, tour the 22 show gardens for inspiration and that “taste of spring.”
  • Shop at the 350 exhibitors offering garden, nature-related and gourmet food goods in the Garden Marketplace. I especially like the non-profit organizations that offer information and help build our gardening community. I also enjoy touring the Vintage Garden Market to find some rusty old thing that would give my garden a bit more character.

    Windows

    Old windows repurposed into a shed — probably the easiest way to build a cold frame.

  • Snack and sip your way through the Tasting Corner, a new gourmet food and beverage marketplace offered this year. Nearly 30 vendors will offer samples of their tasty wares.

This is the second largest garden festival in the U.S., so plan enough time to enjoy it fully. It’s a great way to get spring underway, even while waiting for those first buds to break.

Results of Extended Cold Spell

Sunny, cold days have been the norm in Seattle for a number of weeks, which is “unseasonal” for us here in the Maritime Northwest. And it’s having a punishing effect on my overwintering edibles.

Starting with a snowstorm the second week of December, we’ve had what I’d call a hard winter, as “hard” relates to frost and freeze, that is. Many nights in the low 20s or even teens, and days when the thermometer barely tops 32. Freezing.

The effect has been mixed, according to today’s survey, done in balmy 42-degree sunshine. I opened the zippered front of the long plastic cloche, expecting to find slimy messes where my lettuce and radicchio starts were living, along with a seeded bed of mustard greens. Across the path, floating row cover blanketed a bed seeded with corn salad (mache). All had been alive after that December snowstorm, but I hadn’t uncovered these areas in weeks. Here is my delightful find:

salad cloche

Mustard greens have sprouted in the first bay of the cloche, and in the back two, Winter Density lettuce and Palla Rossa radicchio are standing tall. To the right of the path is thickly sown Vit corn salad.

You’re looking at Winter Density lettuce and Palla Rossa radicchio under the cloche, and Vit corn salad sprouted densely on the right, where the corner of the floating row cover has been removed. Definitely winners in a harsh environment. The existing leaves probably wouldn’t be desirable, but they provide a good base for new growth, which will find its way into late winter salads.

The cloche, which doesn’t look like it would provide much protection, is also a winner. It’s sitting on a raised bed made of stone, which helps radiate heat back into the bed, and I’ve placed stones in bare spots within the cloche to add to that effect.

However, a trek to the back 40 brought down my mood a bit. The purple sprouting broccoli has been shivering with just a smattering of straw mulch around its stems. It had bounced back after the snow melted in mid-December, but since then it’s been in severe retreat due to the cold nights. I should have covered it, but went away for Christmas, when the first cold nights really set in, and by the time I returned I figured it was too late. The cold has continued, with a brief letup, and I hope for the best. But here’s what it looks like right now:

PS Broccoli

“PS” might stand for pretty sad instead of purple sprouting in this bed of broccoli, but who knows, it may recover. Stay tuned as the weather warms.

Behind the broccoli, though, are two A-frame cloches, one covering carrots and the other beets. Although the edges of the cloches are frozen into the crusty soil, I can see green leaves through both of them, giving me hope that these two root crops are hanging in there.

beet and carrot cloches

I haven’t opened these cloches yet – their edges are frozen into the soil – but the beets (left) and carrots (right) still have good greenery.

Speaking of the crusty ground, it needs to be pried open like a stuck car-door in order to rescue a parsnip or two. But it’s worth the effort, as those roots have been nice and sweet.

Other above-ground plants have not fared well. A bed of parsley in an open cold frame is matted against the soil, although might recover. Slimy mounds that once were ruby chard hold less hope. Onions and celery root look OK, but haven’t been pulled yet. Kale, usually a staple in our winter garden, is suffering.

Taking stock of the successes and failures, I can see things I should have done: more mulch around the broccoli, maybe a floating row cover or cloche over it. Definitely much more protection over the poor chard. But just keeping myself warmly clothed on my rare forays out into the crisp weather has been enough of a challenge. I’ll chalk it up to experience and hope the broccoli will finally bounce back. Warmer weather is on the way; this week’s forecast is for high 40s daytime, and mid-30s overnight. I’m ready.

empty bucket

My harvest bucket is pretty empty on a mid-winter walk through the frosty garden landscape.

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