The Dirt on Nicky


You can’t eat a plan

Summer has sprung, and spring crops are fading. Snow peas were pea-licious, and I already know where the autumn crop will go, which brings us to the subject of planning the autumn/winter garden… and I haven’t even handled the summer weeds yet.

Garden planning is a challenging art unless you have a very small garden space. In my garden, I know the garlic crop will mature soon, so that bed will need refurbishing before being repurposed for who knows what – maybe a row of purple, golden and green snow peas with lettuce along the bottom of the trellis. I might be a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

Planning is entertainment. My record at making elaborate plans and following through is spotty. Some folks consider the job done once the plans are made, but you won’t get turnips on the table in November without work.

So, the first task is to identify what grows when the weather turns cold and then decide which ones you like. Here is a list of crops for harvesting during autumn into winter. Some might need protection from frost.

Arugula is a spicy, nutty crucifer (cabbage-family member) used to perk up salads or sandwiches. It matures quickly, so maybe small plantings in mid-August and again in late September will get you to November.

Beets for autumn harvest should be planted late July to early August, maybe even later just for fun. Use leaf mulch or grass clippings. Beets come in many colors, and they all store well.

Broccoli likes it not so hot, not so cold. It does not endure extended periods below 50° but in August, when the seeds should go in, it is too hot. Each broccoli-loving gardener will have to figure it out. Spring is easier.

Cabbage should be planted 10 weeks before the first expected frost, and the heads take 70-90 days to mature.

Carrots available nowadays are so much cooler than the identical orange ones I grew up with. You can grow carrots that are white, golden, yellow, reddish, purple and so purple they look black. Mulch heavily and carrots might last in the ground through the winter. Plant by mid-August or so.

Collards/Kale/Asian relatives represent a variety of leafy crucifers from mustards to broccoli-type leafy plants. Americans are still learning about the many Asian crucifers, some of which mature in just 40 days. Sow kale and others from mid-summer on and, with care, they can last into winter. Kale tastes better after a mild frost.

Kohlrabi is another crucifer which has grown very well in my garden. It produces large leaves which resemble collards, but the difference is a swollen golf-ball size or larger swelling at the top of the stem which tastes like cabbage. The leaves are tasty also.

Radishes come in more colors than a box of Crayolas and are way more nutritious. Some are perfect for autumn gardens and, with care, can be left in the ground for harvest during the winter.

Snow peas/ sugar snap peas are easy to grow and kids like them. They need a trellis and plenty time to climb before the first frost.

Spinach is easy to grow, does not like heat but can handle a bit of cold. Popeye ate it out of a can, but I prefer to grow my own.

Swiss chard is easy to grow, nutritious, versatile in the kitchen, and there are colorful varieties available. A family won’t need many plants either, so plant a few chard seeds in September.

Turnips (for roots) are like radishes. See above. Turnips deserve a place at your Thanksgiving table. There are also turnips for greens.

It’s almost time to find your seeds. When the time is right, the place to plant them will announce itself.