Now's the time to plant cool season vegetables from starts or seed like chard, snow or shelling peas, spinach, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, lettuce, mustard and onions. You can also sow seeds of beets, radish and carrots directly in the ground. Inside it's time to start your warm season vegetable seeds such as tomatoes as well as eggplant and peppers. Usually you start them inside about 8 weeks before last spring frost. Counting back 6 weeks from when night temperatures stay in the mid 50 degree range also works to figure out when to start.
For those who enjoy container gardening, try combining some colorful chard with parsley, alyssum and some Johnny-jump-ups. In another large pot grow some kale, spinach along with Windowbox sweet peas. All stay compact and you can harvest healthy greens close to the kitchen door.
The other day a young girl asked me, "Are you the lady that writes the flower column in the paper"? I was thrilled to know that my readership includes middle schoolers. Our conversation soon turned to vegetables. Which are good to plant at this time of year and how late can they be started. Gardening can be a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us but especially for children.
In a garden, children can breathe fresh air, discover bugs and watch things grow. And, of course, a garden offers kids and everyone else fresh, tasty homegrown food. What better place for kids to play than in a place where they can use their hands and connect with the earth? Where else can they make a plan for a plot of land and learn the lessons of hope and wonder, suspense and patience and even success and failure? In a garden you can have conversations about life and even death in a way that doesn't seem so sad.
With the school year just starting, now would be the perfect time to encourage your child to grow something, keeping track of the progress by pictures and notes. Their daily actions really can make a difference for a sustainable future. Maybe what they learn could even be used for a school project. Here are some ideas.
September is the perfect time to start cool season vegetables. Carrots are fun to start from seed as they can be harvested even when small. For flavor it's difficult to beat a Nantes. Nantes Coreless or Little Finger are two popular varieties. They're not a carrot you'll find in the grocery store because they're difficult to harvest commercially and don't store well. Both are juicy and sweet. Nantes coreless grows to 6-7 " long, is blunt-tipped and fine grained. Little Finger is unmatched for snacks, pickling or steaming. It grows to just 3-4" long and is ideal for container gardening. too.
Red Cored Chantenay has broad shoulders and strong tapered tips. This wedge-shaped carrot is also rarely grown by commercial growers. For the home garden it produces 6" long carrots that keep well when left in the soil, store well after digging and are sweet and crunchy. They perform well in heavy soil, too.
Danvers Half Long are another variety that are tasty raw, cooked, or juiced. They are one of the best carrots for storage as they stay crisp. Carrots found at the super market are usually Imperators just so you know.
You can still start peas, beets, spinach, arugula, mustard and radish now from seed but it's better to start other veggies like lettuce, chard, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, onions, leeks and brussels sprouts from starts. If your veggies haven't gotten a good start before the soil cools, they'll just sit there until spring. Remember to rotate your crop locations so insects and diseases don't cause problems. Also be sure to amend your soil with compost to replenish the nutrients that have been used by your summer veggies and flowers.
Flowers in winter are always welcome so I like to plant early blooming types of sweet peas at this time of year. These varieties flower in the shorter days of late winter. Winter Elegance and Early Multiflora are common early flowering types. Also plant some of the more fragrant spring flowering heirlooms and Spencer's at the same time to extend your harvest time. My very favorite sweet pea with long stems for cutting and an intense fragrance is called April in Paris. Large ruffled blossoms are a soft primrose cream, tinted at the edges in dark lilac that deepens and increases with age. You can't go wrong no matter what color or style sweet pea you choose. They are all beautiful.
If you grow roses fertilize now to encourage another round of blooms. A well-fed rose not only rewards you with beauty and fragrance but can stay healthy and resist attack from insects and diseases. Roses grown in sandy soil or containers need more frequent feeding than those grown in loam or heavier soil. Make sure the soils is moist before fertilizing and water well afterward.
Whatever you grow, include the kids in the garden. It's a free and fun activity.
Plants and trees know when it’s time to bloom and begin growing for the season. Driving around our area I’ve seen the huge flowers of the saucer magnolias starting to unfurl. Many plum trees look like pink clouds they have so many blossoms. It’s time to start planning and planting the vegetable garden.
Towards the end of this month start your tomato and pepper seeds indoors so they are ready to transplant outdoors in 6-8 weeks. Meanwhile, begin sowing seeds of cool season vegetables outside. Prepare the soil by amending with compost and plant seeds for carrots, peas, spinach, beets, chard and lettuce. You can get a jump on your spring harvest by setting out starts of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and green onions.
If you don’t want to wait even that long to start eating your own healthy vegetables, try growing micro greens inside your house like houseplants. It’s similar to sprouting alfalfa, cress, sunflower and buckwheat seeds in a jar and eating them before the second set of leaves emerge. Micro greens, however, can be grown in soil, sprinkled on sponges or fine textured fabric. Because they won’t be around long enough to flower or fruit, they don’t need much light. . It takes about 30 days for micro greens to set their first leaves and be ready to harvest. When the first leaves appear they are at the peak of their nutritional concentration.
What do they taste like? Well, carrot greens, after they set their first true leaf, taste exactly like a carrot. Emerging radish leaves are spicy, cabbage is mild, while sunflowers are nutty. The first swiss chard leaf tastes like spinach, beets have an earthy flavor and kale is slightly sweet. The most intense flavor comes when that first leaf opens as they begin to manufacture energy from light. Think of them as chia pets you can eat.
Plant cool season veggie starts like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, spinach, brussels sprouts, onions and leeks in soil enriched with 4-6" of compost as summer vegetable crops will have used up much of your soil’s nutrients.
You can sow seeds of beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, arugula, mustard and peas directly in the ground.
If you aren’t going to grow vegetables in the garden this fall consider planting a cover crop like crimson clover after you’ve harvested your summer vegetables. Next month I’ll talk about how to go about doing this and how this benefits your soil.
This is also the time to start perennial flowers seeds so that they’ll be mature enough to bloom next year.
Now through October, divide summer blooming perennials like agapanthus, coreopsis, daylilies and penstemons that are overgrown and not flowering well. You can also divide spring blooming perennials like candytuft, columbine, astilbe, bergenia and bleeding heart but sometimes they don’t bloom the first spring afterwards due to the energy they use re-establishing themselves. If you’re on a roll out in the garden, though, go for it now. You never know what other projects you may be working on next spring.