Realization Of The Day:
My best fall crop this year may in fact turn out to be zucchini.
Despite planting seeds way back in May, this is actually the very first specimen in the garden with enough guts to turn from flower to food. The only thing more embarrassing than admitting (while everyone else is happily flaunting full-grown squashes larger than their children and dogs) that I have yet to harvest any zucchini at all this year is that it has been so many years since I have actually tasted a homegrown zucchini that I have literally stopped counting.
All those zucchini jokes. All those people leaving bags of them on strangers' doorsteps and running. All those cookbooks and magazines offering tempting ways to force down your 600th meal of squash. And here I sit zucchiniless. It's very sad. And it is not that I am incompetent. I actually used to be one of those leave-it-on-the-doorstep-and-runners.
That was before I moved to Missouri and met my first squash bug (and my second and third and three thousandth). Now I am forced to buy zucchini. That's okay. Go ahead and laugh. I know I probably would if this wasn't about me. I mean, really, what fool buys zucchini? Hello.
But we won't go into all that now. I am hopeful. I have four gorgeous baby squash literally growing by the hour out there and weeks and weeks until the first frost. This could actually happen.
In the meantime, I'm taking precautions and planting a whole bunch of other stuff just in case.
I already wrote about the seeds I started back on August 8th (along with what--if anything--they're doing now) in my previous post, Planting For Fall. It also contains tips and hints on what fall crops to start in your own garden. Since I'm minding the moonsigns as best I can (click here to learn more about this), I'll be starting these seeds in various raised beds on August 28th, 29th, and 30th (fertile 1st quarter days) and September 4th (fertile 2nd quarter day):
Chinese Greens (All from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) :
--Michihli Cabbage (2005)
--Chinese Pak Choy (2006)
--Chinese Cabbage Loose Leaf (2005)
--Welcome Choy Sum (2005)
--Canton Bok Pak Choy (2006)
--Chinese Celtuce (2005)
--Chinese Kale: Small Leaf Kailann (2005)
I have had good luck in previous years planting a variety of Chinese greens in the spring. They tend to do quite well and are hardy enough to withstand cooler temps and even frosts. But I usually also have all kinds of lettuce that I am racing to eat in the spring before it bolts, so the chickens often end up eating more of the Chinese greens than I do, which really is a shame because they are versatile and delicious. You can toss many of the younger leaves and plants into salads. Mature plants can be stir-fried or sauteed. They are all delicious and very good for you. So I figured I'd see if I could get them to grow in the fall. When nighttime temperatures start dropping, I'll cover them with floating row covers (discussed in Fall Planting Part I) and then with old bedsheets.
I'll also be planting seeds for the following hardy crops in raised beds:
--Beets (few varieties)
--Swiss Chard (few varieties)
I have all kinds of lettuce seeds leftover from spring, and since they usually don't last from one year to the next, I'm going to toss a bunch in the new plot where the old kale and lettuce seeds planted August 8th didn't come up, as well as in one of my mini-greenhouse raised beds. Lettuce is fairly hardy and can survive temperatures down into the twenties if simply covered with a sheet. If the lettuce is still going when it starts to really get cold, I'll cover the mini-greenhouse frame with thick clear plastic that is sealed up at night, then opened up during the day so the plants don't fry. (If the sun is out, any kind of greenhouse, no matter what size, will become extremely hot inside very quickly. Venting is always necessary. One day of forgetting, and you fry your plants.)
Speaking of greenhouses, in my walk-in greenhouse I will be:
--Starting to water the section of raised bed I declared a permanent arugula bed last spring. I let a lot of it go to seed, and will now just start watering it. This is what I did last April, and that carpet of arugula magically appeared. Arugula is fairly cold hardy. It bolts quickly in warm weather, though, which is why I haven't started it yet. With temps outside still in the 90sF, it is getting even hotter than that in the greenhouse, despite being covered with a shade tarp and being shaded in the afternoon.
--Starting some mesclun mix in hopes of being able to pick fresh lettuce on Christmas.
--I'll also be planting more beets and Swiss chard in the greenhouse, though I think that all of the plants that went to seed this summer have probably provided me with ample seeds in the soil already--I'll just start watering and see what comes up.
I mentioned previously that part of the reason I'm starting a lot more seeds this time of year than usual is because I happen to have the available planting space and am just trying to use them up. Another reason is that I didn't harvest nearly as many of the veggies that I usually freeze and enjoy throughout the fall and winter. For example, during a good year I will put at least two dozen packages of green beans in the freezer. This year I put in four. Same with the roma tomatoes I use for pizza sauce and soups--this year I turned 15 pounds of bounty into four small containers, and that was it. The Too Many Tomatoes? post I published yesterday on Farmgirl Fare was all about "salad" or "slicing" varieties which don't really preserve or even roast up well because they are so juicy that you hardly end up with any "meat." (I probably should have made that clear in the post because otherwise yesterday I would have been busy stemming, blanching, cooling, peeling, and packing them up into freezer containers for colder days ahead!)
I hope this gives you a good idea of the wide variety of things it's not too late to start from seed if you're in Zone 5 or higher. And as I mentioned previously, if you have four weeks before really cold weather sets in, you can plant a little gourmet lettuce garden and go from seed to salad bowl in less than a month. Click here to find out how.
Now I should probably end this by mentioning that if you live in a place where you can absolutely depend on the weather and know that you definitely won't have any crazy surprises, things should go quite smoothly with your fall garden. If, however, you live in a place like I do where literally anything can happen, this whole planting thing is all just one big crap shoot. Like I said before, there's a reason bookies don't take bets on gardeners. But this year I'm feeling lucky. And what's the most I can lose (besides my sanity, of course)? Some outdated packets of seeds and several hours spent outside in the (hopefully) cooler air, surrounded by far fewer bugs, and happily breathing in the joyous scent of autumn on the horizon. Doesn't sound like too bad of a bet to me. I'm in.