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Are We There Yet? Gardening Means Not Being Let Off the Hook in the Fall

Well, like everyplace else on the planet, it is early September. In general, everyone’s vegetable garden is looking just a little bit tired at this point. After a very wet spring and early summer here at Chez Siberia, the end of the summer has so far been beautiful, sunny, warm…and totally dry. As you can see from the photo, we’ve got some lettuces that have “bolted” – that is, flowered and gone to seed. I’m going to pull those all up and give them to the chickens – they’ll like something a little different.

I realize that photograph is rather boring – it is, after all, a picture of dirt, but it is dry dirt – really dry…down as far as I can reach dry, which is not good for what I’m going to talk about next.

Fall Gardening. (I can hear the whining voices out there already: “Isn’t it enough that we grew some stuff this summer? We have to start agaiiiiinnnn?”)

Why bother? At this point, depending on where you live in the country north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the first killer frost will be at your doorstep (also dependent on what happens to the Jet Stream in Canada – as long as it stays North, we are in good shape) sooner than we’d all like. In our case, if we are lucky – the first nippy frost will come sometime in October. Due to our geography and topography, we once had a ‘totally knocked everything down in the garden’ frost in mid-September. So, this period is risky. So, why bother?

Because, as Sir Edmond Hillary said about climbing the Himalayas, “It’s there” – because, with the help of seeds left over from the spring garden and a calendar, we can.

My calendar says that between today and mid-October, I’ve got 41 days. There are some nice little greens that will grow in that period. See these seed packages? Check out the little part with ‘days to maturity’ on it – these are all under 45 days. There is also a very hardy green which is very nutritious and which with any luck at all, I’ll be able to get going well enough that it will be big enough to get into the winter. Under the snow, it will stay alive, stay tasty, and last through at least New Year’s Day.

And that is kale. I can still hear those whining voices, “But Aunt Toby…I don’t like kale…it tastes too strong…I don’t know what to do with it….” Trust me on this one – this is like learning to like chard. Kale is a powerhouse veggie, filled with wonderful vitamins and minerals. It is worth learning to like it, especially sautéed in a little olive oil with lots and lots of garlic.

But, in any case, here we are. At this point in the year, the soil is nice and warm, so we don’t have to “sweat” the soil temperatures. But because of the amount of sun we are getting (the days at this point is still much longer than they were in March and April, the last time we planted this sort of thing), we need to provide a bit of protection to the little plants. I found a nice little spot in my garden which has several things to recommend it for a fall greens garden.

1) It’s at the end of the bed where the apple tree gives it a bit of shade until later in the day. It’s also at the end of the bed where the big, lumbering cabbages are still to the south of them in the bed, further giving them some shade.
2) It’s at the end of the bed that is closest to the driveway and the house. That means that during the winter, when we are shoveling snow off the driveway, we will be shoveling the snow on top of the kale plants, thus protecting them. I’ll put a big stick into the end of the bed so that I can find the kale later.
The two other necessary features at this point are a) having seeds left over from the spring (which I did; if you do not, then learn your lesson and hold back some NEXT spring) for plants in the 30-40 day range. The other thing is water. Sowing seed at this point in the year is very different than it is in March or April, when the ground has been under snow for months, is full of moisture, and ready to go. As I pointed out above, this dirt is D….R….Y. So, even before I sowed the seeds, I watered it down so that when I dug a hole with my finger, it was moist for several inches.

I did my usual ‘drag a hoe or a stick through the dirt and sow as thick as you can, then cover with dirt and tamp down’ maneuver and there we go. I then watered the patch again. I’m hoping we will have some rain in the next couple of days. If we do NOT, then I will water that patch again…and again…and again until the seeds sprout.

Something else I’m going to do right now is that I’m going to go to my absolutely favorite seed site and order more seeds for spring greens etc. right now. I know there are readers who are saying to themselves, “Right – these are old seeds; why bother?”

Yes, there are flower seeds that if you don’t get them into the ground THAT season, they are pretty much worthless. But vegetable seeds are not so picky. Also, I have found if I order from a seedsman (rather than going back to my local garden center and pick stuff off the rack, all of which has been sitting there since April, in the dry, air conditioned store), I’m pretty sure of seeds that have been kept under optimal conditions. I get them pretty quickly in the mail and then I stick them into a ziplock™ bag, suck all the air out, put that into a yoghurt container to keep any light out and stick that into my fridge for the duration. I have seeds before anyone gets them in the stores locally, they are good and fresh.

So, I’ve got my seeds in the soil and the soil is moist. Anything else I have to think about?

Yep – back to the frost. At this time of the year, watching the weather is really crucial AND having something to throw over the seedlings ‘just in case’ is just as crucial. The first couple of frosts are hardly ever the ‘killer’ sort – so I have a big piece of plastic that I can use as a sort of ‘tent greenhouse’ over them. It won’t be laying right on top of the plants, which is not what you want in any case and it will keep the air around the plants warm enough. The soil will stay warm for quite a while now, but we need to keep the air around the plants warm enough so that they will continue to grow.
…to be continued.

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