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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Late Bedtimes

All over the neighborhood gardens are tucked in for the winter. Summer’s bedding is ripped out, dirt is fluffed up, here and there are cushiony pillows of leaves to compost.

I’ve witnessed many such plots as I’ve tooled around town, seen these sleepy little yards with nice square corners. Wouldn’t you know it, though – my garden is the one up past curfew. And it’s a night owl, I tell you, still churning out produce.

For areas with distinct seasons, conventional wisdom suggests that when fall comes, and leaves and temperatures drop, it’s time to yank everything out of the garden. No questions asked. During the last spring, after all, many recreational gardeners may have planted everything at the same time, too – just because that’s how they’ve always done it. Plant at once, rip out at once. It almost makes sense.

Yet this view doesn’t take into account that different plants grow best under different conditions. Spinach, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, peas, chard and cabbage, for instance, are labeled as cool-season crops. Generally we take this to mean we can plant them earlier in spring, before established last frost dates. They like things on the cold side.

Quick question: How does fall compare to summer? It’s cooler, of course. Given the chance, these veggies can thrive beyond summer; fall marks a return to the climate they love. You can keep such plants mulched during the heat of the summer, or can sow seeds around July or August for an entirely new crop in autumn.
Garden crops still can flourish, even though it's late enough in the season that trees are stripped of leaves.

Fall: It’s the new spring. Or at least summer’s encore.

I just couldn’t stand to pull out a plant that was still pretty and green when everything else leaned to gray and decay. (Plus, I was too lazy – ahem – busy.) That’s why I hadn’t touched my upper garden bed yet. I nearly nipped my bonus harvest in the bud.

Instead, it was practically the opposite of “ya snooze, ya lose.” I was delighted that my broccoli plants offered several more side shoots, and I can tell the Swiss chard is also growing more stems. I plan to keep my chard plants well mulched throughout the winter just to see what happens.

Even some raspberries form a fall crop, as I discovered by chance. Naturally I was delayed in pruning. Lucky for me, though! I would have chopped away the bearers of deep red jewels. It has already frozen here on several nights, driving away the insects that kept me from fully enjoying earlier berries.

Consider having your cool-season crops in a separate bed(room!) from the rest of your garden. That way you can prepare one plot in early spring and let it lie undisturbed through fall when you want to pull out the rest of your garden.



Lori said...

oh, i wanted to plant salad greens every week through the fall, and i didn’t do it. i wanted to start a new compost pile, and i didn’t do it. and this makes the second year in a row i didn’t move the peonies. boo! i have such a long list of things to do in the fall and i never even get to a fourth of them.

Lindsay said...

I am excited to see this post. I am still enjoying watching my august-planted lettuce grow and beets, although the peas never did take off. Things are slow growing right now so next year I will plant three times as many.