In the Garden:
Fall greens prolong the taste of summer, and you can even harvest kale under a blanket of snow.
Planting Fall Veggies
In many parts of New England the nighttime temperatures have put on a chill lately, but that shouldn't discourage us. It's just a signal that it's time to get those late crops into the ground so we can eat from the garden during the glorious fall days to come. Barring an early killing frost, there's enough time to grow greens such as lettuce, spinach, chard, and arugula; and cole crops such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale. So whether you can't face the end of summer or just need an excuse to avoid doing the dinner dishes (better go check on the seedlings!), start at least a few mesclun greens for fall salads. Here are some tips for getting a respectable harvest from the fall garden.
Veggies grown at this time of year need longer to mature -- about two weeks longer -- than those planted in spring because the days are getting cooler and shorter. But initially the weather may be too hot for seedlings that prefer the cool temperatures of early spring. So you may want to plant these crops where you can cover them with shade cloth early on, and later switch to a row cover fabric that holds in the heat. A cold frame is an ideal spot, as long as you can easily vent it during warm days. Another option is to sow seeds indoors under lights and transplant them into the garden in a few weeks when the temperatures are lower.
Plant greens where you haven't grown greens this year, and cole crops where you haven't grown any cole crops. Mix in some mature compost, and mound up the soil to create raised beds to keep the soil warmer and improve drainage.
Fast-growing spinach is a good choice for fall growing, and some varieties that are especially well suited for late-summer planting are 'Indian Summer', 'Tyee', 'Olympia', 'Hybrid 7', 'Melody', and 'Coho'.
The best types of head lettuce for the cool, short days of fall are leaf lettuces, such as 'Green Ice', 'Salad Bowl', 'Oakleaf', and 'Red Sails'. Mesclun mixes can be snipped when the leaves are small for a longer continuous harvest. Arugula and swiss chard also can be picked when the leaves are young. One trick is to harvest from near the center of the plant while leaving the growing point in the middle and the outer leaves alone. That way, new leaves will keep coming, and the large outer leaves will provide some protection from the cold.
The shorter days and cooler temperatures of fall slow the growth of plants, so they'll need less water and fertilizer. When the seedlings are up and growing, water with liquid fish emulsion, and that will probably provide all the nutrients they need.
Kale, Cabbage, and Broccoli
If you've ever grown kale, you know that a hard frost does wonders for sweetening the leaves by turning the starch into sugar. Kale can actually withstand temperatures of 10 below zero, so try to develop a fondness for it since it's one veggie you can count on picking for Thanksgiving dinner. Some good varieties are 'Red Russian' and 'Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch', both of which mature in about 60 days.
Why not try some variations on the cabbage and broccoli that you grew this summer. Chinese cabbage forms a loose head, and the mild flavor is a nice change, especially in soups. Broccoli raab is grown for its leaves as well as the stalks with tiny flower buds, and, like broccoli, it's picked before the buds open. For traditional broccoli, the 'Packman' variety is one of earliest to mature -- in 50+ days.
I wish we could elude cabbage loopers with this late crop, but unfortunately the larvae are still wandering about in early fall!
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