Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fall Garden, here again...

It finally rained in early August after a dry, dry summer, and I mustered up the energy to rip out all the monstrously large tomato vines and other vestiges of summer plants. What a project! I filled up the massive yard waste bin in no time. But it's always so exciting to see the garden empty, full of dirt and possibility for another season.

This fall, for the first time, I started some plants from seed. I chose lettuce, kale, collards, and Brussels sprouts to begin. Here's how they looked just after starting to sprout, back in mid-August:

After they got bigger and stronger for about two weeks, I started a second planting of lettuce, kale, and collards. I also started some green cabbage and red cabbage, and there's beets in the separate containers. They're all really thriving now! You can see the first planting in the lefthand four rows and the second planting in all the other spots.

The benefit of starting them in increments is that they won't all ripen at the same time. Tomorrow I'm planning to transplant the oldest seedlings, the ones there on the far left, the ones I started first. They'll go into the garden and get bigger and stronger and ready to harvest in a month or so. In two weeks I'll begin to transplant the rest of the seedlings into the garden, and they'll grow too, but they won't be ready to harvest until after I've started harvesting the first batch. So it should allow me to have more to eat over a longer period of time.

I'm looking forward to seeing how these little seedlings do once they get transplanted to the garden. It's really amazing to see these tiny green leaves sprout right up out of the ground when I know all that's gone in there is a little seed in a pile of dirt with some water and sun mixed in. The idea that these little green stalks will ultimately feed me and many friends through the winter is just unreal. Watching growth happen - I love it.

I'm also hoping to over-winter the collards, kale, beets, and Brussels sprouts. That means I'll harvest some from them this fall/early winter, and then, instead of taking them out of the ground and planting new ones in the spring, I'll cover up these plants in the garden to protect them from frost, and uncover then again in the spring for another round of harvesting. Some folks even say that the frost helps improve flavor! In fact, there's a farmer I heard about on NPR once who has a special variety of spinach he calls "ice spinach" that gets such lovely flavor from frosting and defrosting over and over, and getting sweeter and sweeter in the process.

There are also some vegetable seeds you can start by planting them directly in the garden, and in fact it is recommended to do this as they do not transplant well. (In fact, you can start most things in the garden this time of year since the ground is nice and warm - it's better to start some plants indoor for spring plantings because the ground is still cold from the winter frosts and low temperatures.) Jamie and I planted a row of French breakfast radishes, the long thin variety with pink tops and white bottoms. The sprouts started coming up just a few days after sprinkling the seeds into the ground! And they only take a few weeks to fully ripen. In a few days we'll need to go through and thin these out so there's only one plant every inch.

Since the seeds take a while to start, and I wanted to be able to start harvesting something sooner, as well as have a guarantee that I'd have something growing in the garden in case the seeds didn't work out, I purchased a few starter plants from the farmer's market. They look so huge next to the tiny radish seedlings! There's four arugula and then a few different Asian green varieties, including mizuna and tatsoi.

I also got some truly wonderful treats at this week's market. First winter squash of the season! I can't believe it's time already. Also, some beets from David Heeks of Heeks Farm - he only does winter vegetables, and I'm so glad he's back at market. Some garlic, and also exciting, fresh ginger from Alex Hitt at Peregrine Farms! I'd never seen fresh ginger at the market here before. It looks so different from the dark brown stuff in the grocery store, doesn't it?

I also bought a ton of Keenan McDonald's oh-so-unbelievably-tasty pork sausage, as well as some delicious rosemary bread, string beans, and a bag of unreal watercress. This stuff starts out tasting like an apple or something really fruity, and after a few bites turns into the pepperiest, herbiest arugula you've ever eaten. Amazing stuff. Thanks, Hickory Mountain Farm!