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Fall Greens: 'Encore' Garden

 

Supplies:

Prepared, raised garden bed rich with compost

Seeds or seedlings | plant labels and marker

Liquid fertilizer, such as Miracle Gro | watering can

Scissors to cut greens about an inch above ground

 

 

When autumn colors are changing the landscape all around you to oranges, yellows and reds, won't it be fun to "go green" with a fall garden?

 

Planting new garden greens - salad vegetables - is a tasty, terrific way to wrap up your garden season. Start in mid-August, and by late September, you'll have some nice-looking, good-eating fall crops to enjoy.

 

 

Planting a fall garden is a recycling project as well. You can use the same space where you planted spring and summer garden plants. Just as your cucumber, tomato and other summer vegetables are finishing production, it's the perfect time to pull out and discard spent plants.

 

Fortunately, most salad greens don't have very deep roots. So you don't have to dig down 18 inches or anything like that. Just make sure the soil is loose about six inches deep.

 

Work about two inches of compost into the soil with a spade or trowel. Then plant seeds and starts of greens that take from 40 to 60 days to grow to harvest. Most of these are best grown from seed, but read the seed packets to see how to plant each variety, and to make sure production takes 60 days or less so that you have time for harvest.

 

The main thing to remember about these veggies is to keep them evenly moist, but not drenched with water, so a watering can or hose attachment that sprinkles might be in order. Sprinkle daily or even twice daily 'til seeds have sprouted, and then daily or every other day if it doesn't rain.

 

If it gets hot right after you plant the seeds, it's OK to cover your seedbed with a sheet or cardboard; seeds don't need light but they do need a constantly moist environment. Once the seedlings are up, these plants also need at least a half day of sunlight.

 

Here are some suggestions:

 

§         Spinach (perhaps the fastest growing, best-loved fall salad green)

 

§         Lettuce (several kinds - try to plant one green and one red variety for the fun of it; plant seeds very shallow, perhaps just sprinkling them on the soil and rubbing fresh compost between your hands over the seeds so that only about ¼" of compost covers the seeds)

 

§         Arugula (pretty and strong-tasting cross between lettuce and mustard)

 

§         Radishes (might be the fastest to mature, so you could plant seeds once in mid-August and another batch on the first of September)

 

§         Beets (might take 60 days to get to full size, but baby beets at about 50 days are really tasty, and you can make a wonderful salad with the beet leaves)

 

§         Bok choy (this resilient and tasty Asian veggie may keep growing 'til Thanksgiving!)

 

§         Collards (this beloved African-American green is great raw or cooked)

 

§         Baby carrots (you might plant these seeds in loose compost in a flower box and keep it in a sunny spot near your back door or on a table outside, to discourage nibbling bunny rabbits, and to remember to water these lightly once or twice a day to encourage speedy growth)

 

§         Kale (this mega-healthy plant gets prettier and sweeter the later you go into the fall)

 

§         Green onions (simply buy a bunch with roots intact at the grocery store, cut off half of their height, and plant them a couple of inches down)

 

§         Garlic (simply plant cloves, or sections, of a garlic bulb purchased in the grocery store in the fall; water as usual; it will get started in the fall, die back, but come roaring back in the spring and in the following summer, you can harvest a new bulb wherever you planted a single section! But if you can't wait, in the fall you can cut off half of the tops of garlic greens for a tasty salad addition)

 

§         Herbs such as dill, cilantro and parsley

 

Keep your seed packets so you can check how far apart seedlings are supposed to be so that the plants will grow well. You will have to do a lot of thinning because these salad plants need air around them and good spacing. Thin by either cutting away excess seedlings at the soil line with manicuring scissors so that you don't disturb the roots of the plants you're keeping . . . or pull  seedlings out and eat the baby leaves whenever possible.

 

The best time of the day to harvest salad veggies is in the early morning, when the leaves are fullest with water. Simply pinch off spinach leaves and pull out whole radishes, beets, and other root crops. With lettuce or other plants that grow from a "crown" above the roots, you can pull out the whole plant and cut off and discard the roots, or, better yet, use scissors or a sharp knife (with adult supervision!) to cut off clumps an inch above the soil line; new leaves will re-grow and you'll enjoy a second round of salad in a few weeks!

 

If the weather report calls for a frost and you still have a lot of salad greens in the soil, don't despair. Run outside and cover them with a sheet, blanket, box or a piece of cardboard. Then remove the cover the next day when it warms up above freezing.

 

Many of these cool-weather greens actually like cooler nights and grow better in the fall. It is not unusual for spinach to go dormant over the coldest months of the winter and then re-grow in the spring.

 

By Susan Darst Williams • www.KidsGardenClub.org • Themes 11 © 2012

 

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