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Victory gardens aren’t just summer dreams

  • Jane Scurich
  • Just as we harvest our first tomatoes and celebrate our summer victory garden, it’s time to start planning for fall. While corn and peppers won’t tolerate our cooler weather and shorter daylight hours, the variety of veggies available to plant and harvest in autumn and throughout the winter is amazing. It’s time to plan.

    Our Mediterranean climate supports almost year-round gardening. Micro-climates within Marin may challenge gardeners who experience freezing temperatures or extreme rain, but most of us can continue harvesting herbs, lettuces, cruciferous vegetables, and others throughout fall and winter.

    The most common vegetables for fall are in the large brassica family that includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, various cooking greens and many lesser known plants. It’s easy to get confused in this large family that is often referred to in the culinary world as cruciferous or in the agricultural community by the informal name “cole crops”.  This term may sound like an indication of a cold weather crop but “cole” is a variation of a Latin word meaning stem.

    Within this extensive family are some lesser-known varieties that are fun to try.  Gai-lin (Chinese broccoli) has flat blue-green leaves with thick stems. Kohlrabi is a sputnik-shaped, very mild tasting veggie that can be eaten raw or cooked – steamed, stir-fried or baked. Easy to grow Komatsuna Greens (Japanese mustard spinach) have dark green leaves, are rich in calcium and delicious in stir-fries.

    Growing up in the south, collards were a winter staple and rich source of calcium. Cool weather tends to sweeten most easy-to-grow cooking greens like collards and mustards. A dish of beans and greens is a welcome antidote for a cold rainy day.

    To maintain an ongoing crop of cool season greens, adopt the cut-and-come-again (CACA) harvesting method. Start by picking the oldest leaves while they are quite young – about 3-4” tall. Don’t allow the leaves to mature and produce seeds. Regularly harvest just what you need for a meal to encourage the plant to grow. Leafy salad greens and cooking greens are ideal candidates for CACA gardens.

    I was pleased with three plants I tested last fall:

    • Chrysanthemum greens with dark green aromatic leaves are rich in vitamin B and minerals. Plant successive rows of seeds to maintain a continuous crop. Delicious in shabu-shabu or sprinkled over salads or soups along with the petals of their small yellow flowers.
    • Pak choi (bok choy) is available in many varieties. I particularly enjoyed ‘Da Hong’ Winter Hybrid which produced heads with violet-red oval shaped leaves. Start picking the outer leaves in 20-25 days. Full heads mature in 45-50 days.
    • Snap peas – two varieties, ‘Sugar magnolia’ and ‘Cascadia’, planted in the fall, produced copious amounts of delectable peas we savored both raw and sautéed through mid-May.

    Why is today a good time to plan for a fall garden? Not since WWII has there been such an interest in home vegetable gardens. Many of you will remember searching garden centers for herb and veggie starts this spring and coming up empty. Basil was almost impossible to find.

    Seeds offer a much greater variety of plants than you will find in garden starts. Search now for the type of vegetable you would like to grow, order seeds and start them as early as the package directions advise. Packets usually contain many seeds, so share the bounty with your friends and neighbors.

    While you’re planning for your future garden, continue to feed, water, and harvest your summer garden on a regular basis; just like the CACA fall veggies, summer beans, squash, tomatoes and most herbs respond favorably to frequent harvesting to encourage plentiful growth.

    Remember to feed your soil with compost and other amendments before starting a new crop. Hungry summer plants will have depleted many of the soil’s nutrients.

    Visit: http://marinmg.ucanr.edu/Food_Gardening/Getting_Started_with_Food_Gardening/ for more tips for great food gardening. Bon Appétit!