Saturday, October 26, 2013

Frost Ends Summer Season

After taking a few days off to visit Washington, DC, last week, we are back with the blog. One of the highlights of our visit was the National Botanic Garden, where we strolled through the conservatory filled with tropical plants. See the photo below.

Last night saw the first killing frost we have received here in the Tennessee Valley, thus marking the end of the summer gardening season. Basil leaves hang blackened and mushy from the stalks. The okra stalks are similarly festooned with dead foliage. Nevertheless, the garden is not done yet.

Begonia colors at the National Botanic Garden
The Sugar Snap peas remain harvestable. Frost sometimes damages the pods slightly, but there is an easy remedy for this. Instead of eating them raw or cooking them gently, simmer them in stock with a little onion and celery, a few leaves of lettuce, and a sprig of parsley until they are really tender, then puree and strain for a delicious green pea soup. All the ingredients, except the celery, will do very well here even after a light frost. Celery grows well as a fall crop if started in early summer, but is ruined by frost damage. I prefer to purchase organic celery at the market.

As an experiment this year, we planted peppers in one of our 6 by 8 plastic walk-in coldframes. (The frames shelter two plots of garden soil that we use for various off-season crops.) Peppers love growing in close proximity to each other, and thrive with the light shade afforded by the frame cover during the hot summer months. Earlier this week, we closed the windows and door to protect the peppers from frost. It will be interesting to see how long this extends our harvest. We have certainly had a bumper crop already.

We are thinking about next year already, and considering a similar experiment with determinate tomato varieties in one of the coldframes.

From the unprotected garden beds we will be able to harvest bak choy, cilantro, kale, lettuce, onions, parsley and spinach for a few more weeks. We have salad crops growing in the coldframe, also. With the protection of the frame, we expect to harvest arugula, corn salad, and radishes until Christmas. Arugula and corn salad are two winter crops worth growing indoors, either under lights or in a south-facing window. The "window box" style planters we use will accommodate enough arugula for six servings, and can be cut three times before the plants wear out. I cut two servings every other day this past week, and the plants will regrow in ten to fourteen days. Similarly, corn salad will yield several nice bunches that can be harvested over a period of weeks. Either of these tasty greens provides a lift and added nutrition when combined with salad from the market.

You still have time to plant bulbs of perennial onions, winter onions, shallots and garlic. All of these should be watered well and mulched to protect them from the harsher weather soon to arrive.

Please check out The New American Homestead Store for books and plants. There is still time for fall planting in the Tennessee Valley!

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