So, many of ya’ll know we’ve been dealing with some shit this summer. Katy and I like to joke that we have the best excuse for…pretty much everything right now: cancer. And sure, as a consequence of being somewhat distracted, and busy, the garden went a little wild this summer. We didn’t do a good job at trying to harvest and preserve our bounty. We let some plants drown the others. We totally lost track of everything.
And we know we are not alone. Summer weather doesn’t exactly encourage the average person to spend lots of time in the dirt, let alone if you are dealing with cancer, or valley fever, or leprosy.
But it’s October now. The weather has, literally, found some chill. I’m aiming my gaze at the garden. Holy hell, what happened? We just sort of let the squashes and other cucurbits swamp the entire backyard. I don’t think we could ever eat, or even give away, that much butternut squash. And there is another development at Rancho Gatito: fucking grasshoppers everywhere. To top it off, our cats love to bring those little hopping bastards inside, toy with them until they become lethargic, and missing a limb or two, and leave them in waiting by the front door for when we come home.
CRUNCH. Oh, god damn it.
I don’t know why I feel bad about stepping on the little bastards. I mean, if I put them back outside, and if they weren’t already on the verge of death, they’d just eat my plants. Somehow, though, I feel bad.
It’s time to plant stuff. So ok, some of you aren’t too entertained by all the extra fluff writing and just want the facts.
WHAT DO I PLANT RIGHT NOW?
This is the cool season. And though it didn’t feel like it, as far as the gardener is concerned, the cool season usually starts in August. Or, at least, that is when I normally start to planting out many cool season crops. But, as noted above, we didn’t get to it. Maybe you didn’t either. But don’t freak out. There is so much time left in the cool season. You can pretty much plant everything that the cool season allows you to grow. Here is what you can be planting right now:
Lettuces, cabbages, Asian greens (like mizuna and bok choy), all the chicories (endive, frisée, escarole, radicchio, puntarelle), arugula, mache, orach, all those mustards, all that cress, miner’s lettuce, spinach, sorrel, celery, and nasturtiums.
From seed. I plant in rows, and thin out as they grow. The more room you give each individual, the more likely the heads will develop as intended. If you don’t get to thinning the rows out, the individuals will be cramped and bolt (go to seed) sooner. Plants will be slimmer too. This isn’t really a bad thing, but if you are aiming at getting a mature, developed head of lettuce, give the plants some space.
The Root Crops
Radishes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, root chicory, burdock, parsley root, celeriac, parsnip, chicory root, salsify, scorzonera, beets, and rutabagas.
From seed. Plant in rows, spaced apart to allow for root development. Again, if you plant closer, you can thin out as plants mature. Don’t feed root crops too much nitrogen (the first number of three on your fertilizer bags). Also, root crops tend to love sandier, well-drained soil.
The Cole Crops
Cabbage, broccoli and rapini, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collards, kohlrabi.
From plant or seed. In general, I believe in planting from seed, directly into the soil. With the cole crops, I think it’s ok to start from 4 inch pots or 6-packs. I will say, you will be limited by the varieties that the nursery thinks it can sell, rather than having the full palette to select from.
The Cool-Season Herbs
Parsley, dill, cilantro, chervil, fennel, borage, salad burnet, caraway, anise, and lovage.
From seed. Plant much like the greens, thinning out as they mature.
Onions (including bulbing and bunching varieties), shallots, garlic, elephant garlic, leeks, Egyptian walking onion, chives, Chinese chives (a different species from regular chives), and society garlic.
From bulbs, or plants, occasionally from seed. Most of these you will get as bulbs, green onions in bunches, or plants already in containers. Give onions plenty of space and sun. This is the PRIME time to plant garlic, so don’t wait much longer. They need enough time before summer comes.
Garbanzo, fava, lentil, and peas.
From seed. Many beans are summer-growing crops. But these are more cool-season crops. Legume crops are also great for the soil.
Perennial Edible Plants
There are many, many other edible plants that fall into the perennial category — that is, they live year-round, and need a permanent location. Fruit trees, perennial herbs, native plants, vines…
Fall is almost always the best time to plant such species, keeping one thing in mind: if the plant is frost-tender, you will need to plant it in a protected location and/or cover the plant during frosts. Planting perennials in the fall gives the plant more time to develop a root system before the onslaught of summer heat slams down on our landscape.
* * *
In general, for your annual crops (the stuff that doesn’t live year after year) I’d suggest you feed with a balanced kelp fertilizer, preferably powdered kelp (liquid organic fertilizers tend to be stabilized with sulfur and I don’t like adding sulfur to my garden beds because it kills the microorganisms I am trying to encourage). And fer chrissake please plant your garden in the full sun, especially the cool season garden. The garden looks like shit when over-shaded.
I’ll say this: as much as I have a lot of pride in our desert summers, I am so happy to have all those delicious greens again. The salads we make from the garden literally get me high. I’m looking forward to grazing the garden beds like a goat.