The middle of summer never feels like the right time to start thinking about fall crops, but it is. As you clear beds of the residues of early crops, rake the soil out evenly and refresh the bed with a generous scattering of humic acid granules and several inches of compost. Water each plot well and let it rest for a few weeks while you think about starting seeds or buying starts for the next wave. Timely succession planting keeps the garden productive all year, or very nearly. Even in the deepest winter cold spells, we can generally harvest leeks and green onions, kale, and other hardy greens, as well as garlic, potatoes, beets and carrots. Instead of harvesting entire root crops in fall, leave some to dig later and they’ll be fresher than when stored in the garden shed or kitchen fridge.
As early root crops are harvested, replace them with fresh starts for late summer and fall harvest. If you’re thinking about a second crop of onions, make sure to choose thick-skinned keeper types like Yellow Globe and Stuttgarter, not Walla Walla or Vidalia sweet onions, which have a short season and don’t store well. Green onions (aka scallions) such as Evergreen and Tokyo Long White will remain tender and tasty well into winter if sown in late summer or transplanted in early autumn. Beets, turnips, and parsnips can be sown into early August, at which point you’re better off buying starts. Heritage beets are usually good keepers, so look for seeds or starts of Italian types like Chioggia (the one with pretty pink rings inside), golden Boldor, or Cylindra. Beet greens are lovely raw or cooked, another good cool-season green. Bulbing or Florence fennel such as Orazio is an excellent fall crop, as the cooler weather makes it less likely to bolt (as it does all too readily in warm springs).
When your spring radishes are over, sow some Watermelon radishes, a summer/fall type with pale green-to cream skin and bright pink insides. French Breakfast (the long, red-and-white kind Peter Rabbit liked), Nelson, and D’Avignon are also good choices for summer-sown radishes for fall harvest. You can also sow fall/winter carrots like juicy Napoli and slender Mokum now without the worry of wireworms.
Hardy greens that usually take winter in stride include arugula and radicchio, especially heritage types like Rocket and Selvatica arugulas and Bel Fiore, Indigo or Fiero radicchios. Cold tolerant spinach varieties such as Kolibri, Tyee and Giant Winter are also reliable in ordinary winters, if such a thing still exists. All kale is basically winter hardy, especially the curlier types such as Red Russian and Siberian Curly, though flat-leaf Dazzling Blue and Black Magic came through last winter’s freezes just fine in my garden.
Perhaps the sweetest, crunchiest addition to the cool season salad bowl is miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), a charming native perennial that takes well to garden settings. Learn to recognize this willing plant and you may find it’s already appearing in your garden.
Spring peas often age out by the end of June or early July, though this year, peas got off to such a slow start that they may not die back for a while. Quite often, peas sown in late summer can perform as well or better than spring peas (especially in a cool summer year). Sugar Snaps are my top pick for fall sowing, along with Oregon Sugar Pod and Snow Peas. Onward, right?
Contact Ann Lovejoy at 413 Madrona Way NE, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110 or visit Ann’s blog at http://www.loghouseplants.com/blogs/greengardening/ and leave a question/comment.