With the weather so hot and sticky, it’s hard to grasp that now is the time to start preparing the fall garden.
I, for one, am glad. I’ve always hated summer gardening, which for organic gardeners poses particular difficulties. Heat and moisture equals blight and disease, and those are exactly the weather conditions summers usually cook up for us here in Western North Carolina. Then, of course, there is the unending war with legions of summer insects bent on destroying whatever might be left.
Additionally, as I’ve written previously, the garden got away from me this year. It is a weedy mess, totally unlike any garden I’ve ever had before. I blame the shock to my system of having to actually work again at a newspaper — I believed those days were long in my past, and yet I awoke to find myself once again a reporter. Laboring under deadlines, attending municipal and county board meetings, conducting endless interviews on an endless number of subjects, it’s no wonder (or so I reassure myself) that I haven’t devoted the time needed to the garden. Why, it’s amazing I even get out of the bed some mornings.
But the changes of seasons can bring rebirth, and I’m now planning a fall garden that will redeem my summer failures. I will be a phoenix rising from the ashes; or something like that, anyway.
• I am slightly behind on the calendar of when I usually start my Brussels sprouts plants for later transplanting, but it’s not too late yet. I’ll start them when I also plant broccoli and cabbage, this week or this weekend at the latest.
• This week or next is also the time to direct seed rutabaga in the garden. This is a slow growing plant, and it needs ample time to reach its full potential before cold weather sets in.
• Beets, too, can go into the garden now, as can additional carrots. The difficulty is germination — if the rains let up, then I’ll need to use shade cloth to keep the soil from drying out too quickly after I seed. Or, you can use a board — seed, water well, lay a board on top, and be sure to check each day for signs of germination. When you see the tiny green sprouts, remove the board, which helps to trap moisture in the ground so that this small miracle can take place.
• I tend to plant my fall greens later than is traditionally done in WNC. Many local gardeners will start seeding turnips, mustard and so on in mid-August. I generally wait until the first week of September, because it seems to help with insect control. Besides, unless you are a market farmer, what’s the rush? You don’t want a cooked mess of greens anyway until you can eat them alongside a bowl of pintos and a slice of cornbread, and that culinary delight is only enjoyable with a bit of frost on the ground.
• In late August I direct seed winter radishes, such as the black Spanish radish and daikons.
• From late August through the first couple of weeks in September is a good time to plant Chinese cabbage and other Asian greens such as mizuna and tatsoi. More on those, and soon — I’m a big fan of Asian plants, and each year I’ve tried a few new ones, and rarely been disappointed.