Ward off fall dread with late-season crops

It is a cruel fact that just when the gardening season reaches its best moments gardeners need to be thinking about the next tasks that await them.

Right now, the garden is about abundance. Produce is being harvested faster than most of us can think of what to do with it all. In between frantically searching the internet for recipes that call for a handful of green beans, a bushel of kale, four different varieties of tomatoes, a zucchini the size of a baseball bat and one lone eggplant, flowering plants are putting on a show that demands our attention. No occasion is too insignificant to make a bouquet from a garden bursting with flowers begging to be appreciated.

And yet just when gardeners should be soaking up all the good that came from the previous months’ hard work, we need to be thinking about fall.

Few things illicit more guilt than seeing bare soil in the vegetable garden during the growing season, so as crops wrap up production it’s time to get something else planted. Gardeners who are masters at succession planting, and probably spend less time than I do admiring the garden with a cold drink, have the next crops started under grow lights nearly all summer.

The idea of tending plants under grow lights in the basement when the sun is warm and shining brings me no joy, so I look for late-season crops that can be sown directly in the garden. The single most important deciding factor when I choose vegetable varieties for fall is the days to harvest. Anyone who gardens here knows that fall can be fickle, and Mother Nature doesn’t pay much attention to first average frost dates, so speed is of the essence.

Quick-turn carrots, which will happily manage a frost, spinach and beets are all on the list. The varieties I choose may not be the tastiest but, like all homegrown food, they will certainly be better than anything the grocery store has to offer.

My fall garden resembles the spring garden in that lettuce takes up a lot of real estate. For the most part, I grow looseleaf mixes rather than heading lettuces at this time of year because they can be harvested at almost any stage and are particularly easy to sow where gaps have been created. I plan to attempt to extend the lettuce-growing season a bit by using row covers when it gets cold, an exercise that should be well worth the effort if it means being able to delay having to buy expensive grocery store lettuce.

A few years ago, I discovered the joy of growing peas in fall, something I hadn’t even thought of. Peas are such a quintessential spring treat that it hadn’t occurred to me to grow them in fall, but last year I had a better fall pea harvest than I did in spring.

I struggle to muster enthusiasm for any gardening job that reminds me that summer is waning, but the surest way to avoid fall dread is to ensure that I’ll still be gardening when the jackets and gloves come back out.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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