The Island Garden
If you grow vegetables, by now you will have harvested many of them. Garlic, potatoes, broccoli and some cabbages have all matured and have been cropped leaving large, bare patches of soil. Don’t let that soil sit idle: start a second crop right now for planting out as soon as possible. All you need is a place to start seeds, some potting soil and a few seeds. Both Jamestown Hardware and Secret Garden still have seeds – Secret Garden even has a few trays of plants looking for a good home.
As soon as you have picked whatever crop was growing, look at planting other crops. Remember that you want to rotate your crops, so don’t try to grow broccoli where cabbages grew. For example, if you have harvested potatoes, plant broccoli, cabbage or beets. With the ground thoroughly warmed up, there is no reason why they should not germinate within a few days – that is, if the mice leave you enough seeds. If you have pulled your garlic, seed the area with turnip or radishes that will mature quickly and provide nice side dishes for Thanksgiving.
If you cover your crops in winter with a plastic sheet or use polytunnels, you can grow kale, chard and other greens to provide healthy green-leaved vegetables for the winter table. It is hard to grow lettuce during the heat of summer because it bolts so fast, but varieties such as Merveille de Quatre Saisons and Pablo are slow to bolt. If you get no satisfaction from your lettuce patch, try growing arugula or some New Zealand spinach, Malabar spinach or miner’s lettuce. Most will only take 30 to 40 days until harvest.
From now to first frost is about 12 weeks – or about 84 days – so any plant that will grow to maturity in that time is fair game to start growing now. That includes most carrots, parsnips, kale, chard, endive and escarole, peas, beans, Asian greens, radicchio, chicory, radishes, rutabagas, turnips, and a lot of herbs.
If you start right now you can still grow a lot of annual outdoor herbs such as basil, borage, caraway, catnip, cilantro, parsley, dill, sorrel, edible chrysanthemum, and summer savory. Many of these herbs can be dried for winter, except for basil, which can be made into pesto and frozen for winter.
You might also want to start a few pots of parsley, dill, basil and other annual herbs that will last long into the winter if you take them indoors and put them in a reasonably bright window.
Of course, if you have a greenhouse, there is no limit to what you can grow all winter long. Typically, I have a number of tropical herbs growing in the greenhouse. For example, fenugreek, ginger, lemon grass, galangal, tarragon, rosemary and others all live in pots and grow all winter. I also started a few tomato and cucumber plants late in the spring and have them growing in the greenhouse. Right now they do not have any fruit, but are showing signs of setting some. Hopefully, they will give me enough salad materials right through until January or February in the heated greenhouse.
If you want to grow winter leaves for salad, make yourself a 4-by-4- foot (half a sheet of plywood) wide box with 4-inch high sides. Fill it with potting soil and plant salad mixes. A box like this will allow you to crop baby lettuce, spinach, beet and other greens all winter long if it is set in a place where it will get some sunlight and will not freeze. Harvest when the green leaves are about 4 to 6 inches tall. If you harvest one square foot at a time, it will usually give you enough for several salads – about as much as a $4.99 box of leaves from the supermarket. As soon as 1 square foot is harvested, replant it. With any luck you should be able to harvest about a square foot each week.