With the first official day of fall just a month away, many gardeners are looking forward to the changing season and a reprieve from the heat and pests of summer. While gardening in cooler temperatures under the azure sky of fall, my attitude improves as I slow down and spend more time pondering my garden. What about those pesky winter annual weeds, you say? No problem! Their wimpy, shallow roots pull easily. Oh no, there are cabbage looper worms on your broccoli, you point out. No big deal, at least they’re not squash stem borers. I will pick the worms off, squish their eggs and move onto planting my greens.
Oh, how I have missed you fresh spinach, kale, and collards. Greens are a favorite of many gardeners due to their low maintenance nature. They will grow in most soil types, require moderate moisture, and tolerate sun or partial shade. This fall, in addition to the usual suspects, I am excited to grow some of the more unusual greens.
Greens To Plant In The Fall
If you have spent time in the south, you may have heard of, or better yet, eaten creasy greens. The main ingredient in this southern delicacy is a type of cress that goes by several names such as upland creasy greens or simply, upland cress. Botanists refer to it as Barbarea verna. In early fall when the soil temperatures average 45-70˚F, you can direct sow upland creasy greens in your garden. For an adequately sized patch to harvest from, sow seeds thickly on the soil surface (1/16″ deep). In as little as 20 days, you can begin harvesting young leaves. Upland creasy greens are very frost tolerant and will continue to produce into winter with little to no protection. Incorporate the mild peppery leaves in salads, soups, and stir-fries, as you would watercress. Or, try cooking upland creasy greens the traditional way, sautéed in pork fat and seasoned with salt, pepper, and maybe a dash of vinegar.
Mâche (Valerianella locusta) is another underused green that will find a home in my garden this year. The tender, mild flavor of mâche is a great counterpart to the bite of cress. Mâche grows wild in its native Europe, where it is also known as corn salad. Sow seeds in fall as soil temperatures cool to 40-65 ˚F. Mâche is a winter warrior that will tolerate air temperatures as low as 5˚F with no protection. Harvest individual leaves periodically throughout the growing season or cut entire heads when mature. Mâche is best eaten raw, making it a delightful addition to salads.
Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) is an underused green with a rich history. The common name comes from the fact that during the California Gold Rush, miners often dined on this indigenous plant. In addition to being delectable, the large, succulent leaves of miner’s lettuce also contain vitamin C, which prevented the miners from getting scurvy.
Miner’s lettuce will tolerate warmer temperatures than many other greens and thus can be sown in late summer. The ideal soil temperature for germination is 50-85 ˚F. In around 40 days, you will be ready to harvest your first mature leaves, which are continually produced throughout fall. Miner’s lettuce is lightly frost tolerant, meaning that to extend your harvest through fall and hopefully winter, you will need a row cover or heavy straw mulch. Similar to spinach, the mild tasting leaves of miner’s lettuce are good in salads or lightly steamed.
For a colorful addition to your fall garden, grow orach (Atriplex hortensis), also known as mountain spinach due to its similarity in flavor. The leaves of this tasty and ornamental green come in vivid colors of red, gold, pink, purple. Sow orach seed directly into your garden when soil temps are 45-65°F. Orach is only moderately frost tolerant, so provide protection during hard freezes. To ensure a continual harvest, remove flower heads as they form to encourage more vegetative growth. For tender salad greens, harvest leaves when plants are 18″ tall or less. The mature leaves of larger plants are best when cooked.
Fall is a time of transition and introspection. As we switch to growing cool season crops, it is also time to reflect on our summer garden and what worked well or not at all. For me, the frustrations of summer gardening quickly fade to optimism as I eat my fresh greens and plan for spring.
Written by Renee Fortner, Sow True Seed’s Agricultural Manager
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