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Planning your final fall crops

by Timber Press on September 26, 2018

in Design, Gardening

In autumn, wild grapes are steeped in the other scents of the season.

Whether it’s because you’ve been toiling over those little plants for weeks or because of the seasoning dripping from your sweaty brow, homegrown food just tastes better. If you have one iota of energy left, invest it in a late crop. You won’t be sorry.

You’ve sown and reaped. You’ve harvested some late arrivals that took the entire growing season to mature. And maybe you’re weary. Perhaps you are pretty much ready to throw in the trowel and call it quits for the year. Don’t. Instead, summon another ounce of energy and push your garden to its limits. Your tummy will thank you. Play your cards right, and it’s possible to sneak in another season of salad greens.

Just like everyone else, I begin to peter out by September. Although a brisk succession of vegetables is kept pumping through most of summer, sometimes the routine falls apart late in the year. And that leaves nothing but the grocery store to feed my hunger for greens. After eating your own produce for several months, supermarket fare is seriously blah.

‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard tastes even more buttery after frost.

Hit the raised beds not much later than the first of September. Finding space is not usually an issue—you probably have empty lettuce rows that bolted in the heat of summer. Other crops have probably been harvested and created space. Back when I was growing sweet potatoes (before the voles sent out an all-points bulletin announcing that fact), an entire raised bed of sweet potatoes left room to sneak in one more relay of vegetables. Here’s the plan: buy some compost (you can usually get it for a song in autumn), spread it on and hoe it in, and go to work with some seed packets. The trick lies in finding short-season greens to bring your scheme to life.

I live on lettuce, so that’s my mainstay. For autumn, try ‘Gentilina’, ‘Optima’, and ‘Adriana’. When cold weather (as opposed to merely chilly) is forecast, gobble down lettuces in their youth—autumn is all about grabbing the goodies while they still exist. You might also grow spinach (‘Butterflay’ does beautifully at this time of year) and put in another crop of Swiss chard (‘Bright Lights’ is the most fun, although ‘Fordhook Giant’ is faster and seems to be more productive). Note that buttery, tender Swiss chard in autumn is a whole different taste sensation than its earlier incarnation.

“What do you have to lose? Maybe a few dollars for a seed packet.”

Warning: mothering might be necessary when you first plant your autumn crops. In early September, you could still be on the tailwind of August’s hot, dry tendencies. Water the seeds in when sowing, and keep watering until they germinate. By that time, autumn’s cooler weather should be in full swing, and if you say your prayers every night, autumn rains might be sprinkling down. While saying those prayers, please insert a special request for rain of the gentle genre. Deluges are counterproductive. Your strategy might work, or an early frost might turn your efforts into mush. But at least you tried to extend the season and give the grocery store’s produce department the cold shoulder. And what do you have to lose? Maybe a few dollars for a seed packet. The compost is a good investment whenever you dish it out. Give it your best shot. Keep the momentum going. You can rest your weary self in winter.

 

Tovah Martin is a fanatical and passionate organic gardener and the author of The Indestructible Houseplant, The Unexpected Houseplant, The New Terrarium, and Tasha Tudor’s Garden, as well as many other gardening books. Visit her tovahmartin.com.

 

 

 

 

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