Renewing The Vegetable Garden In Fall
Though the days are lovely and warm, night temperatures are dropping once again. As summer fades, the garden soil is still warm enough to make a lovely nursery bed for young vegetables. If you want to enjoy cooking with fall and winter crops, this is the time to tuck in new starts of greens and other cool season vegetables.
Greens are the backbone of my winter garden, since we eat them daily in salads, soups, and stir fries. I love all kinds of kale and have been enjoying all kinds, especially an Italian kind called Lacinato. Its ruggose, crinkled leaves have a lovely, almost sweet flavor and taste terrific in salads as well as all manner of cooked dishes. Redbor is another favorite kale with frilly red foliage. Strip the little leaflets off the main stems and toss them in salads, sandwich fillings, or stir fries for a tender treat. The offspring of these two is called Lacinato Rainbow, and it has crunchy, lacy foliage that runs from rose and purple to soft blue-green.
Kale With Basil and Cherry Tomatoes
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups kale leaflets, stripped from main stem
1/4 cup basil, stemmed and sliced into ribbons
1 cup cherry tomatoes, stemmed
In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil and garlic to the fragrance point over medium high heat (1 minute). Sprinkle with salt, add kale and stir to coat. Cover pan and cook until tender-crisp (2-3 minutes). Stir in basil and tomatoes, reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and cook until hot through (1-2 minutes). Serve hot. Serves 2.
Renew and Refresh
Before planting, replenish the tired soil with a nice blanket of compost mulch. Wherever beds were emptied by recent harvest, spread 4-6 inches of mature (aged) compost. Anywhere you want to sow seeds of fast growers like spinach, lettuce, kale and arugula,
blend the refreshing compost in with the soil, then top dress with an extra inch or so to keep weeds from sprouting.
Give the rows plenty of room, sowing your seeds at least a foot apart to allow for rapid growth in the warm autumn air. Until fall rains arrive for good, you’ll need to keep the seedlings and starts evenly moist. Plan on watering on hot days, at least three times a week through the month (or longer).
Onward With Onions
This is also a good time to set out onions sets. Look for Walla Walla Sweet onions as well as yellow and white onions. Both garlic and shallots make good fall crops as well. Leeks are a classic fall and winter crop, improving in flavor after frosty nights. These slow growers take at least three months to size up, so seedlings set out now won’t find their way to your kitchen until late winter or early spring. However, you can set out sturdy starts now and expect to harvest them around Thanksgiving.
If your Brussels sprouts tend to get aphids, try growing any of the splendidly handsome Italian versions with red stems and sprouts. As tasty as they are lovely, these sprouts hardly ever suffer pest damage.
A Gaggle of Greens
If you missed the window for sowing lettuce, arugula, and other greens, you should be able to find starts now at your local nursery. These are never available until the summer heat starts to dissipate, since they prefer growing in cooler conditions. Set your starts in now and you’ll be enjoying fresh salads through fall and into winter.
Spinach loves the cooling nights and warm days of fall and you can often get several crops in if you sow short rows every two weeks for the next month or so. You can also get in a few short rows of arugula, corn salad, and radicchio if you sow them right away. Otherwise, look for starts and set them 6 inches apart for fall and early winter harvest.
Quicker From Starts
Many of the Oriental greens like Chinese mustard, joi choy, and pak choi will size up quickly from a late summer planting and be ready to eat within about 40 days. Tender Florence fennel bulbs take about 60 days to fatten up from starts, but can be left in the ground to harvest all winter.
One of the most beautiful winter crops is chard, of which there are many lovely forms. The prettiest is a Swiss chard strain called Bright Lights, with gorgeous stems and leaf veins in glowing ruby, hot yellow, sizzling pink, and sunset orange. The young leaves retain their color well and are delicious sliced into fine ribbons for raw salads or used to garnish soups and stews.