Carolyn Singer: The autumn garden begins in late summer
My Northeaster beans from Johnny’s Selected Seeds are once again giving an abundant daily harvest with plenty to eat, freeze, and share with friends. When they reach the top of the support system at eight feet, the vines tumble over and intertwine in a joyful dance, the long beans hanging within the dense foliage.
With the intensity and beauty of the summer harvest distracting me, it’s difficult to focus on planning for fall. But now is the time.
While garlic does not need to be planted until October, ordering your “seed” right now is good idea. There is a greater selection, and the bulbs may be stored in a cool, dry location until planting.
There’s even time to grow a quick cover crop of bush beans in the future garlic planting bed. Because I save seed from my beans each year, I have plenty of seed to use some as a cover crop. And planted this weekend, those bush beans will probably give you a harvest before they are incorporated into the soil to nourish the garlic.
I spoke with John Drew recently about his plans for fall planting at Bakbraken Acres in Chicago Park. He will wait another month to sow seeds of beets directly into the soil because the soil is cooler in September. Right now in my garden, beets that were sown in June are thriving under light shade cloth (20%). While this legendary organic farmer and I were chatting about the virtues of Northeaster beans, and the magic of soil temperatures for seed germination, it occurred to me that the shade cloth could also be used to cool the soil before planting. I am I going to try that this year.
Beet seeds are actually a cluster of seeds and should be spaced a couple of inches apart unless you are planning on harvesting lots of young greens. Thin in time for the roots to begin development while the soil is still warm in fall.
Seeds of other vegetables may be sown now too. For carrots, I like to use one of the shorter varieties, sometimes called “half-longs”. Like the beets, carrot seeds should be sown where they will grow.
Kale is tolerant of warm soil. Grown during the winter months, its flavor is much sweeter than summer kale leaves. If you are short on space right now in the vegetable garden, seed in small containers and set the plants into the garden as soon as there is room. Lettuce, too, may be seeded in flats then transplanted into the garden. Try Oak Leaf lettuce. It’s very tolerant of winter cold and you can harvest a few leaves at a time, leaving the plant in place to grow more.
Local nurseries will soon have a selection of vegetables that do well in our area: lettuce, kale, collards, cabbage, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, and even tatsoi, one of my favorite greens. Today Peaceful Valley Farm Supply is offering an organic gardening workshop (9:30-11:30, 272-4769 x 106) that will include information about fall veggies.
While summer heat keeps me inside writing during much of the day, I can fantasize about brushing away snow from the carrot bed and pulling a bright orange root from my winter garden. And fall is that window of opportunity for bringing fantasies closer to reality. I need to pause in picking beans and focus on planning for fall.
Carolyn Singer has gardened in the foothills since 1977. She will be at The Book Seller in Grass Valley this Sunday at 1p.m. to talk about gardening in deer country, sign books, and answer gardening questions.
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