Fall vegetable garden–not so much

Fall vegetable garden–not so much.

In August, I had cautiously optimistic hopes for a fall vegetable garden. I planted spinach, lettuce, arugula, carrots, beets, chard, kale, and radishes, hoping for the best despite the August heat. I planted seeds from 2 seed companies–Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Seeds of Change, thinking that a comparison might be made between them. That experiment was inconclusive. I think soil temperature for germination and the August drought were much bigger factors than which seed company provided the seeds.

After planting the fall vegetable garden, I covered the raised beds involved with lightweight bed covers and misted the beds through the bed covers each morning, hoping to beat the heat and encourage germination. Spinach, chard, and beets were total no-shows. Sorrow and sadness. I honestly don’t miss the beets all that much. There is another bed of chard from a spring planting, so that’s a chard consolation. But I am sad and frustrated about the spinach.

Damrosch and Coleman say that fall spinach is the sweetest, but I won’t experience that sweetness this fall. Both the Emperor spinach from Johnny’s and the Renegade spinach from Seeds of Change were total no-shows. The soil must have been too warm for germination. I should have tried planting more spinach seed later in the season, but, unfortunately, I used up all the seed and didn’t get around to ordering more. Next year, check the soil temperature before planting. Johnny’s says optimum soil temp for spinach germination is between 68° and 77°F. That may be September soil temps, not August.

Lettuce is my best fall crop. Crispino and Helvius, from Johnny’s, have kept us in salads all summer and into the fall and are still producing. Adriana lettuce from Johnny’s was also planted with less germination success.

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A leaf lettuce mix from Seeds of Change, seen in photo above, was also planted in August. It is still growing under bed covers. Having garden lettuce for salads continuously since spring and still going really is remarkable. I think bed covers are a big factor. The lettuce under bed covers stays so clean and fresh that it’s worth the effort to keep lettuce covered.

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Carrots, both summer and fall, are the best I’ve ever grown. Look at the summer Bolero carrots in the photo above, from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I couldn’t believe how big they had grown when I finally got around to pulling them. They were big enough to use a carrot peeler on them, rather than scrubbing them with a vegetable brush as I usually do with the smaller carrots. These carrots have been a staple in our daily lettuce salad as well as recently being a welcome addition to a really delicious lamb stew.

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Fall Scarlet Nantes carrots from Seeds of Change, as seen above, are under bed covers, so we’ll see what becomes of them, what with the frost and all. Fall and winter carrots are supposed to be sweetest. Candy carrots, as Eliot Coleman says. We’ll see about that.

Arugula has also been a salad staple this summer. The wild arugula and Wasabi arugula just won’t stop producing lovely leaves for salads. I cut off the blossoms, and the leaves grow back thicker than before. Perhaps the frost will do them in. They are simply a garden bonus at this point. I never expected them to maintain their growth for so long.

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I planted some standard arugula in a bed with Crispino lettuce. The arugula leaves grew to enormous size, as can be seen in the photo above. The Crispino lettuce is on the left. The standard arugula on the right. Amazing. Arugula definitely perks up the daily lettuce salad. Our other great salad find this summer is balsamic vinegar from Trader Joe’s. No more mixing up salad dressing. Just pour on a little olive oil and the balsamic vinegar. Some family members have even dispensed with the olive oil. Not me.

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Finally, 2 raised beds of kale are still in production. The bed seen in the photo above is from a summer planting and contains both Red Russian and Toscano kale. Kept under bed covers all summer due to the cabbageworm situation, this bed has supplied kale for summer dishes as well as for blanching and freezing for winter stews. It looks small in the photo because the leaves have just been harvested.

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The Toscano kale planted in the fall garden, seen in the photo above, has produced 1 crop for immediate consumption in the lamb stew mentioned above. Before the October 17-18 frosts, I switched the lightweight summer covers for the heavier winter covers. Both are from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The lightweight cover is called Agribon+ AG-15 Insect Barrier. The heavier cover is Agribon+ AG-19 Floating Row Cover. It is to be used for frost protection and overwintering.

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Frosts occurred on the nights of October 17th (27°F.) and 18th (24°F). The temps warmed quickly on the following mornings, but, as you can see, the tomatoes, above, and summer squash, below, as well as peppers, beans, and basil all turned brown and are ready for October clean-up. I brought in lots of peppers and green tomatoes before the frosts. Hopefully, the green tomatoes will ripen on the kitchen counter.

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On October 20, 2 days after the frosts, the following photos were taken of the fall garden. I pulled the bed covers back to see what was left.

The lettuce looks great.

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The mixed-leaf lettuce from Seed of Change, as seen above.

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Adriana lettuce from Johnny’s, above. Funny about the Adriana lettuce–it wasn’t covered, but the frost did not affect it in the least. The carrots growing in the same bed with the Adriana were also untouched by the frost. Apparently, bed covers are more necessary to protect lettuce from the heat of August than from the frosts of October.

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Crispino from Johnny’s, above.

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And Helvius, also from Johnny’s, above.

I’m happy that I now seem able to keep lettuce varieties separate. In earlier lettuce posts, I expressed much frustration over getting them confused one with another.

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The kale under bed covers fared equally well. The spring planting of Red Russian and Toscano, as seen above, is ready for another harvest.

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The fall planting, in August, of Toscano, as seen above, has fewer plants, but they all look healthy and should produce into the fall. Perhaps winter.

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Arugula is hardier than I realized. Above is a photo of the Wasabi arugula planted in early spring. It was not covered during the frosts and is not fazed a bit.

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Finally, above is a photo of the Scarlet Nantes carrots from Seeds of Change. The carrots were covered and are growing nicely. Perhaps we will have a few “candy carrots” this winter after all.

So the fall garden is “not so much” because of the spinach, beet, and chard crop failures. Then again, it’s not a total failure. I choose not to use a strict balance sheet on the economics of my vegetable garden. After all, how do you account for good exercise and peace of mind. I tend to think I’m still spending more on the garden than I’m reaping from its harvest in pure dollar terms. Still, just think about all those summer salads and tomato sandwiches. Just look at the garlic and onions stored away for the winter. Just open the door of the pantry, uh, upright freezer, and see how crammed full it is with summer bounty. Maybe the garden is making more of a dent in the food budget than I realize. To say nothing of the increase in food quality.

And won’t I do still better next fall, if I remember the lessons learned this year in the fall garden. I hope so.

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