Saturday, August 18, 2012

Planting a Fall Garden

Somehow I managed to delete last week's post on planting fall root vegetables. Sorry about that! In that post, I offered some tips for gardeners who like to plant by the moon, along with some suggestions for fall growing. To summarize, in August and September you still have plenty of gardening opportunities. Root crops for fall planting include beets, carrots, scallions and turnips. According to the moon, the next good planting time is between September 1 and September 14. Leeks for overwintering should go in the ground right away, however, if you have not already started plants. They can take a long time to mature.

Perennial onions, shallots and garlic should all be planted during the first two weeks of September, also. Choose the best bulbs from this summer's garlic harvest and replant the cloves for next year. Find starts for perennial onions and shallots online, or ask your gardening friends if they are willing to share.
From now until the end of August is a good time to transplant bak choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, and cauliflower, along with parsley, cilantro and Swiss chard. If you did not start seeds last month, you can find plenty at the local garden centers. I am seeing more offerings of fall vegetable starts and seeds this year than ever before.
From now until the end of August is a good time to plant some favorite fall green crops. Lettuces, kale, Asian mustards, corn salad, spinach and chervil are all great choices for a fall garden. Along with late tomatoes, their tender greens make tasty, nutritious salads.
Sweeten the pot with peas, either English (shelling), snap or snow. All varieties tend to perform better as a fall crop in the Tennessee Valley region. Now is the perfect time to plant, as the weather begins to moderate and rainfall returns. We have grown many varieties, but the original 'Sugar Snap' remains our favorite for an edible podded pea. Among snow pea varieties, 'Dwarf Gray Sugar' abundantly yields pods only an inch and a half long from lovely bi-color pink flowers. 'Mammoth Melting Sugar' produces huge pods, and is a reliable cultivar. Most peas will do best if given some support. These three demand it, as they all can grow to six feet. If you bother with shelling peas, old stand-bys like 'Lincoln' and 'Green Arrow' still perform.
Plant fall lettuce cultivars in the opposite order that you followed in spring.  Start with heat tolerant Romaines, and follow in succession with increasingly cold tolerant varieties. Looseleaf, then butterhead, is my preference. It is worth noting that red coloration and a savoyed (frilly) leaf texture usually indicate cold tolerance. Flat, green leaves do better in warmer temperatures. Here in the Tennessee Valley, any lettuce is worth a try between now and the onset of freezing temperatures.
A classic Romaine lettuce that has been offered by our local seed company for many years is a dependable performer. Another good Romaine to plant now is ‘Rouge d’Hiver.’ Both mature in about 70 days or a little less. Some other possibilities that we have tried include ‘Forellenschluss’ and ‘Freckles’ both of which have green leaves with reddish brown markings, and a sharper flavor than plain green Romaine. Burpee touted a dwarf variety, ‘Little Ceasar’ this year, but we did not have room to try it.
Kale is a dependable and super-nutritious fall crop. By choosing more than one cultivar and planting in succession, you can have fresh kale all winter long here in Zone 6b.
Kale is classified by its leaf shape into several types. All are varieties of wild cabbage, Brassica oleracea Acephala Group. Scotch Kale is characterized by its extremely curly leaves. Popular cultivars include:
·         Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch—good for containers because of its smaller size, this kale matures in only 55 days, but can be used when younger for salad greens.
·         Redbor and Winterbor—cold hardy types, maturing in 55-60 days; Redbor has deep red-purple leaves. Very young leaves are tender enough for salads.
Russian Kale has flat leaves, often with ragged edges. ‘Vates’ is the cultivar most often seen in seed racks, but ‘White Russian’ and ‘Red Russian’ are other good choices. Red kales tend to mature a little earlier than their white counterparts. In this case, the difference is about a week. All three of these can be eaten within a month of sowing as salad greens.
For maximum cold tolerance, consider ‘Lacinato’ kale for a later crop. This one spent last winter in my coldframe and produced plenty of delicious leaves. It is almost black in color, because of its dark blue-green pigmentation. The leaves are long, straplike, and crinkled like seersucker. Maturing at about 65 days, it is at its most flavorful after a frost.  A late August planting should be ready by Halloween.
Mature kale is delicious stir fried with a little garlic and soy sauce. You can also coat the leaves lightly with oil and soy sauce and place on a sheet pan in a 200 degree oven until they are crisp, for a healthy snack. Around here, the traditional way to enjoy kale or other cooking greens is to simmer them a long time in a little water with a ham hock or pieces of bacon or fatback tossed in, then serve them with cornbread to sop up the delicious juices, or "pot likker." If you want to come close to the traditional taste without the meat, try this approach:
New-Fashioned Greens with Pot Likker
Wash 1 pound fresh kale, turnip, or mustard greens, or a combination. Pat dry with kitchen towels. Stack the leaves and cut them into ribbons about an inch wide. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in the greens and simmer 1 minute. Drain in a colander and immediately rinse in cold water to set the color. Return the greens to the pot and add 1 cup vegetable stock, 1 small onion, chopped, and a pinch of salt. Simmer until the greens are meltingly tender, about half an hour. Taste carefully and correct the seasoning. Serve over cornbread, garnished with a little grated cheese, if you prefer.

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