I have always done the majority of my gardening during the spring and summer months. September usually finds me in a gardening postpartum funk. Green tomatoes linger on raggedy vines that straggle in the mulch. Wildflowers slump out of bounds. The awful lilac bushes go white with powdery mildew.
I have, however and unfortunately, a deep fondness for root crops: turnips, beets, carrots and such. I plant them faithfully in the early spring. But cool weather doesn’t last very long around here, and the soil is just heavy enough that roots crops never seem to develop fully. Worse yet, until very recently my garden space has been tiny: I haven’t been able to leave root crops in the ground long enough if I am to have a summer vegetable crop (tomatoes, peppers, beans, and cucumbers) worth the effort of planting.
I end up eating a whole lot of beet and turnip greens. I kid you not: a whole lotta.
The solution, of course, is to plant cool weather crops for a fall harvest.
Let me paint picture for you: It was 104 degrees outdoors six weeks before our first frost date. Today, the first week of September, it is a balmy 97. My rich garden soil, consisting of well-amended but sticky Mississippi river mud, has spent three months compacting under torrential summer rains, then baking under a merciless sun into bricks worthy of a Mesopotamian ziggurat. See me, doughty gardener, sun hat on head, shovel in hand, wheelbarrow of compost at the ready. And there, the garden: it slowly blinks, as unimpressed and sullen as a teenager slouched at the back of the classroom.
Honey, I have to tell it straight from the hip: one look at my August soil, and thoughts of turnips, beets, carrots, brussels sprouts and cabbages fly clean out of my head. I get to thinking about… I don’t know… chocolate.
This year is different. As you know if you’ve been following this blog patiently over the past few months, I spent February expanding my vegetable bed into the swampy part of my lawn, and installed 3 out of what will eventually be 6 raised beds. Each bed has been back-filled with pure compost: I can bury my hands from fingertips to forearms in one smooth gesture.
My interest in autumn gardening has soared; the amount of personal energy and attention I can bring to the garden (what with kids going to school, and the start of my own fall semester at university) is sufficient to the tasks involved. Rather than being overwhelmed,, I can look at the garden once again with fondness and with my usual touch of sass.
To my surprise, I have found the autumn garden easier to get started than the spring garden. Seeds pop up – either from the ground, or in outdoor planters — faster than you can say Jack-B-Nimble. There’s no damping off disease, no hardening off, and no fear of sun-burning tender indoor starts. It’s cheap (my favorite); and hard labor is little more than forking in extra manure, sprinkling a tablespoon of fertilizer, and spritzing each seedling against cabbage loopers and flea beetles.
So far I’ve planted broccoli, cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, turnips, beets and spinach. I’ve cleared out the corn stalks and I’ve pulled the spent sweet and hot pepper plants to make room for succession plantings of leafy greens.
The extended garden and raised beds were a long time coming. They were also an investment in time, labor, and lucre. I can happily say that they are the best money I have spent on my garden in a number of years. I can’t wait to harvest mouth-watering root vegetables spanked to proper sugary goodness by a hard November frost!
Miracle of miracles, I’m enjoying the autumn garden!