Feeding The Garden & You
The rains are back, and though the days are still beautifully warm, night temperatures are dropping once again. As summer gently fades away, the garden soil is still warm enough to make a lovely nursery bed for young vegetables. If you 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, 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.
Summer’s End Salads
Raw kale has a bit of a bite that is pleasantly mellowed by sweet, earthy, golden beets. This raw salad combines them with creamy white beans or chick peas (garbanzo beans) and a lively mint, lime and ginger dressing. Grate the ginger root with a microplane grater and watch your fingers!
Snappy Raw Beet and Kale Salad
1/4 cup avocado oil
1 organic lime juiced, zest grated
2 tablespoons minced mint leaves
1-2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger root
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup cooked white beans or chick peas
1 golden beet, peeled and coarsely grated
(about 2 cups)
4 cups finely ribbon-sliced Black Magic kale
1/4 cup chopped Walla Walla Sweet onion
In a serving bowl, combine oil, 1 teaspoon lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon lime zest, mint, 1 teaspoon grated ginger, and 1/8 teaspoon sea salt, adjusting lime juice and zest, ginger, and salt to taste. Add grated beet, kale, and onion, toss gently and let stand for 15-20 minutes before serving. Serves 4.
An Even Crunchier Kale Salad
This crunchy, savory salad is a perfect complement to grains and roasted vegetables. For a deeper, bolder flavor, crumble in some soy bacon (we like the Morningstar kind) or a little nutritional yeast (1-2 teaspoons). Avocado oil has a clean flavor and rich quality that lets other flavors shine without being overwhelmed.
Crisp Tomato Kale Salad
1 tablespoon avocado oil
1 shallot, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 cups little kale leaflets, stripped from main stem
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup basil, stemmed and sliced into ribbons
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2-3 strips soy bacon, cooked (optional)
1-2 teaspoons nutritional yeast (optional)
In a serving bowl, combine oil, shallot, sea salt, kale and kale, toss gently and let stand for 10 minutes. Add basil and tomatoes and bacon or nutritional yeast if using, toss to combine and serve. Serves 4.
Renew and Refresh
Before planting, replenish weary soil with a 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 top few inches of soil, then top dress with an extra inch or two to keep weeds from sprouting.
Give the rows plenty of room, sowing your seeds and placing starts of lettuce, leeks and radishes at least a foot apart (18 inches for most greens, 2 feet for kale and Brussels sprouts) 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.
It’s too late to start Brussels sprouts from seed, but starts should size up nicely. If your Brussels sprouts tend to get aphids, try growing any of the splendidly handsome Italian versions like Rubine and Red Ball, 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 a foot or more 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. Some of the prettiest Swiss chard strains include Aurora, Bright Lights, and Celebration Mix, all of which boast gorgeous stems and leaf veins in glowing ruby, hot yellow, sizzling pink, and sunset orange, contrasting with deep and softer green foliage. The young leaves retain their color well and are delicious sliced into fine ribbons for raw salads or used to garnish soups and stews.