Plant now for a late-season harvest of fresh veggies.
By Richard Hefley
While many fall and winter vegetables are planted mid-summer, there is still time to plant a variety of vegetables, such as lettuces and Brassica plants (like greens, broccoli and kales). To begin, determine the date of your average first hard frost, and count backward 12 to 14 weeks. The county Extension office or a local nursery will have this information.
If there’s still time before the killing cold sets in, and if your soil is ready for planting, you can sow seeds directly. However, seeds usually germinate better in a closed environment such as a greenhouse or indoors.
If you don’t have enough time before the typical first hard frost, then buy plants several weeks old and plant them. Your local garden store should have plants at about the right age.
Soil and Moisture
Soils can be depleted after the summer harvests, so it’s a good idea to add aged manure or compost before planting the greens. Patty McManus-Huber, of Nash’s Organic Produce, creates compost she says is comparable to a fine wine to enhance her alluvial soils in the Dungeness River valley of Sequim, Wash.
“We grow our fertility,” she says of her and her husband, Nash, who farm 500 acres using a vintage Massey Ferguson® cultivator. She describes a recipe for compost that includes seaweed, wood chips, fish emulsions, the wastes of their organically grown vegetables and other ingredients. The brew then ages for three years.
An added benefit of growing winter greens is, after harvest, their decaying stems and roots will add to next year’s soil fertility, while their thick leaves help keep weeds down.
Drought can be a problem in getting a winter garden to maturity. Maintaining evenly moist soil during seed germination is easier if a shade cloth or simple lattice is placed over the area to keep the sun from drying it out. Many of these vegetables also require up to an inch of water per week to produce a healthy crop. A finely ground mulch placed between maturing plants will also help keep soils moist, weeds out and roots warm.
Harvesting methods make a difference. For instance, leafy greens are best enjoyed by cutting the outer leaves while leaving the inside ones for later. Lettuces and their like will continue to produce new interior leaves until a hard freeze kills the plant.
Collard greens, a Southern delicacy, are best harvested after the first frost, which is credited with “sweetening” the flavor of the leaves. But don’t harvest while the leaves are frozen or they will turn to mush when thawed. Instead, wait until the temperature warms the leaves before harvesting.
The cabbage and broccoli harvest can be extended by cutting the crowns high on the stem. This should allow the plant to send up side shoots from the remaining stem that can be harvested later.