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

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.

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.

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.

Plunge In Pungent Alliums

To paraphrase an old saying: Give a person garlic and they can ward off vampires once; teach a person how to grow garlic, and they will be free of vampires for a lifetime.

Have you planted your garlic yet? I try to get mine in by Halloween, but given our unseasonably warm fall, I think Maritime Northwest gardeners could still get a crop in the ground, unless your garden is in a cold microclimate.

Spanish Roja garlic

Spanish Roja garlic. I save the biggest heads for replanting.

In my Edible Garden column for Edible Seattle’s Sept/Oct issue, I outlined many of the considerations for planting alliums, the genus that includes garlic, onions and shallots. You may still be able to find some of these alliums in nurseries, and all of them would be well worth a try.

Garlic is my favorite, because it comes in so many types and flavors, far more interesting than the typical white supermarket variety. Look for unique varieties that are spicy or sweet, with cloves striped in red or purple. Learn all about types and varieties from Filaree Garlic Farm.

See my earlier article Cloves in Bed, All is Well on the steps to planting garlic.

The onions you’d find now in the nurseries would be seedlings, small groups of grass-like starts growing in soil. Try Walla Walla Sweet, if you can get it, as they do well in our climate.

Seedlings are different from onion sets or bunches, traditionally sold in the spring. Sets are baby onion bulbs that are sold dry, and will come to life and grow after planting. Bunches are small plants that had been started the previous fall and dug from their bed before being banded together and sold by the dozen in the spring.

As we near the end of the gardening year, consider where in your garden these spicy spikes might go, see if you can find any in the nurseries or buy some from a farmers market stand, and get them in the soil as soon as possible.

Cover the soil with a loose mulch like straw to soften the winter rains, and watch for the little allium spikes to break ground early next year, signifying the start of another gardening season. I guarantee that you’ll be vampire-free.

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