By Andrea Bellamy - Photo: Carole Topalian
I know you don’t want to hear this, but fall’s approaching. I, too, prefer to live in denial of this fact, which is why I often wait until the last second—or, more truthfully, a week after the last second—to plant the seeds and transplants that will supplement (and elevate!) my meals throughout the coming fall and winter. My friends: For many fabulous, hardy edibles, the last second is now. It’s go time.
Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and collards are all perfectly respectable hardy (and, bless them, hearty) vegetables, but unless you can find some sturdy seedlings, there may not be time to grow them to maturity—this year. Instead, focus on seeding hardy greens that will establish quickly and stand up to the coming cool season. Lettuce? Of course. Spinach, chard, and arugula? Yes, yes, and yes. But also consider more unusual greens, both for the salad bowl and stir-fry.
Sow succulent miner’s lettuce (claytonia), nutty corn salad (mache), peppery cress, and bitter endive and radicchio to round out winter salads. Winter-hardy lettuces such as Arctic King, Winter Density, and Rouge d’Hiver will also serve you well.
Leafy mustards and Asian greens are fabulously cold hardy. Mizuna, perhaps one of the easiest to grow, is also one of the mildest. Komatsuna, mibuna, shungiku (edible chrysanthemum), tah tsai, and tendergreen also lean toward the mild end of the scale. Like things spicy? Try Giant Red or Southern Giant Curled mustards.
Because they mature quickly, pac choi (bok choy) and choi sum are also excellent candidates for planting in late summer. Pac choi produces succulent, spoon-shaped leaves on vase-shaped plants, while choi sum is grown for its tender flowering stems. Try Toy Choi, a pint-sized pac choi, or Jade Spring, a quick-growing choi sum.
Pac choi and choi sum, as well as mustard and Asian greens, are part of the large and diverse Brassica family—which also includes arugula, collards, kale, cabbage, broccoli, radishes, and turnips, to name but a few. As a general rule, brassicas enjoy rich, moist soil that is high in organic matter such as compost. After planting, keep emerging seedlings well watered and watch for slugs.
Once the fall rains start, your garden will require little help from you. The rewards, however, are high: crisp, nutrient-rich salads and flavourful sautés throughout the fall. And with luck and mild weather, right through until spring.
A GARDEN CHECKLIST FOR HIGH SUMMER
• Snap up any large, healthy Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, or kale seedlings you find, and transplant into the garden.
• Sow overwintering onions, scallions, turnips, and winter radishes such as Black Spanish Round.
• Sow arugula, endive, lettuce, Rossa di Verona radicchio, spinach, Swiss chard, as well as any other greens mentioned above.
• Sow chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, and lavender for a continuing supply of fresh herbs.
• In late August, sow a cover crop in any empty beds. Choose a combination of nitrogen-fixing legumes (such as crimson clover) and soil builders (such as fall rye). This “green mulch” will protect the soil over the winter, and enrich it once tilled under in spring.
Andrea Bellamy is the gardener behind heavypetal.ca and author of Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden.