Planning Your Garden Part 4: The Fall Garden
In the last few weeks, we have harvested lots of fruits and veggies, and some plants have completed their season. The garden looks different. There are big pockets of emptiness, soil with nothing growing in it. Harvesting turnips, beets and carrots leaves beds empty. Pulling out the leaf baby lettuces after the third or fourth cutting of their leaves, and removing the sugar snap peas once the weather heated up, left open holes in the earth.
But it’s only August and we have a few more months of good growing time before winter will show her frosty fangs. How can we take advantage of this time?
When I lived in California and Arizona, we talked about more than one growing season per year. In some areas, food can even be grown year round, while in others you can get in a double crop. This is common with corn, for example. But here in Chicago, our growing season is pitifully short, bordered by temperatures that most vegetables and fruits won’t even consider befriending. That having been said, there are many edible plants that either mature quickly or are “cold tolerant,” meaning that they can either tolerate the frost or hang on beyond it, even without a cold frame or some other type of season extender.
Enter the fall garden.
Here are some of the seeds we are planting to harvest this September, October and maybe even through early winter.
An easy favorite is the radish. The average radish, of which there are so many varieties, matures in about 20 days. That’s less than one month! If you want to start a garden and you have kids, I recommend planting radishes with them because they produce such fast results, and your children will get a real kick out of seeing their seeds become plants. Radishes are great compliments to salads and stir fries, and our office administrator, Judy, swears by roasting them with butter and lemon – or olive oil for those who are dairy free.
But radishes are just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce). Ok, bad joke, but leaf lettuces can be grown now for the fall as well. They sprout quickly and can be harvested in 3-5 weeks. Cut them back and you’ll have a second and even a third potential harvest before they need to be pulled, as they begin to get bitter after a few cuttings. But since lettuces can be planted in Chicagoland until early September, you can start one bed and then in a couple of weeks, start another. You can even grow them in pots on the patio.
Do you like greens? There are so many wonderful varieties, including two Asian greens, bok choy and tatsoi, that mature quickly. Bok choy needs about 45 days and your tatsoi will be ready to pick alongside your radishes in 20-25 days. Kales and collards take longer to mature – about 50-70 days, depending on the variety, but the young plants can be harvested much sooner. If you like to steam up baby kales or collards, you can sow them much like leaf lettuce, making a bed of greens that lie close together, then cutting them back when they are 3-5 inches tall for salad, steam or stir fry. Or you can leave them to mature, and discover that they may survive frosts as well. I had collards that overwintered and came back the following spring!
We might not think it, but some veggies actually prefer the cold. The peas that fade in the heat can be replanted late this month for a fall crop. So if you like shelling peas or the sweet sugar snap varieties, you have another chance before winter for these tasty treats. Spinach and arugula also like the cold, bolting to flower in the heat. Chard likes the cold, and should be planted about 40 days before frost. I’d say late August/early September. We think of carrots and beets as great summer vegetables, and they are, yet they will mature in 50-60 days, and a late planting can be harvested after frost. I have picked carrots and beets even into January in a mild Chicago winter, even sweeter after the frost!
One of my favorite plants to grow, and one that has always yielded heavily for me, is cucumber. I love the vines and watching the fruits grow, from their first appearance as inch-long, wormlike formations, to the full, wet and juicy dark green that says, “Pick me!” This year was odd, however. We planted cucumbers three times. For some reason, they just didn’t come up. So we did one more planting, and they are finally coming up! Most cukes don’t make it past the high heat, but I chose a variety that is tolerant all the way up to frost. Usually by this time of year I am pulling out the plants as they have given all they had to give. But now the cucumbers aren’t even a foot high. I look forward to seeing what kind of crop they will yield this fall.
So, are your garden beds showing space from your harvest? Did the spring and summer whiz by before you had a chance to plant? There is still time. Bring more color into those holes or empty beds by planting them up. Your garden will be alive with fresh shapes and colors, and your table will be graced by delicious food that you have grown with your own hand.
Upcoming In the Gardens Volunteer Days
Lack a garden or the space to make one? Come and volunteer with us. Get your hands dirty and share in feeding the hungry while sampling some of our lovely produce which is ripening everywhere we turn! Our next Volunteer Days will be this Sunday, August 20, then Labor Day weekend on Sunday, September 3 and the following Sunday, September 10. See our Events page for details.
We’d love to have you join us.
Blessings from the garden,
Rabbi Robin Damsky