Article by National Gardening Bureau, Inc.
When the trees begin to show fall colors, your garden can too. Unless you live in a mild winter climate, you may not have thought about planting for a fall harvest that can continue even into the winter. Now is that time to plan for fall planting. For fall harvests you can start everything from seed sown directly in the garden.
Do you enjoy salad and other greens fresh from the garden? In season, they are fabulous, especially cut-and-come-again greens like leaf lettuces, arugula, mustard and others. For what you would pay for two weeks worth of salad greens for a family of four, you can buy more than enough seed to keep you in salad all fall and well into winter. Look for greens that you would normally plant in spring before the last frost date—those that can take some cold.
Since these are mostly “foliage plants,” look for those that add a dimension of color in addition to “leafy green” when selecting varieties to add to your garden. If you don’t segregate ornamentals from edibles, you will want the plants to add as much interest—leaf color, shape, size, and plant form—as possible.
Choose from among the many leaf lettuces, including these All-America Selections winners: ‘Red Sails’ (1985), ‘Buttercrunch’ (1963), ‘Ruby’ (1958), and ‘Salad Bowl’ (1952). Romaines can take the cold; try ‘Rouge d’Hiver’ and ‘Freckles’ for good color.
Mix it Up
Sow each type of seed separately, or create your own personal mesclun blend. You can mix all the seeds together in a bowl and then scatter them on bare soil—thicker than normal. Make an eighteen-inch-wide swath through a garden bed, or edge the path leading from the sidewalk to your front door. The greens will come up in a colorful carpet. By the time the plants are a few inches tall they will need thinning. Pull up plants at random for an instant salad of baby greens.
Since you will be planting in the heat of summer, sow the seed in a partly shaded spot, or provide shade with spun polyester cloth to keep them cooler. Mist lightly during the day to refresh the seedlings and young plants. Otherwise, they require no different care than spring-sown seeds. Growing spinach in the spring can be a challenge, as it doesn’t like the heat. In fall, it is happy with the cooling weather. Be sure to avoid any varieties that are labeled “summer” spinach. As with the other plants for fall harvest, sow the seed in a partially shaded area to keep the soil from getting too warm.
To many, the flavor of kale—like Brussels sprouts—is enhanced by frost. For diversity of leaf shape, color (from deep green to blue), size, and crunch, choose several kale varieties. Finely curled red-leafed ‘Redbor Hybrid’, and bluish crinkle-leafed ‘Winterbor’ are amazingly hardy and can last through winter. ‘Lacinata’ holds its deep bluish-green leaves upright, while ‘Red Russian’ with a mauve tinge to the leaves, has a more open habit.
Swiss chard is a must-have. Grow ‘Bright Lights’ (1998 AAS winner) to delight your eyes as well as your palate. With ribs that run the gamut from silver to gold, orange, pink, red, and green, a stand of Swiss chard looks like stained glass with the early morning or late afternoon sun glimmering through it.
Add Some Pizzazz
Other less common, yet more flavorful greens, add spice to the mix. Depending on your taste, include some piquant greens such as arugula. Broccoli raab, a sprouting broccoli, (also known by such names as raab, rapa, rapini, and spring broccoli) is sumptuous stir-fried in olive oil and garlic, served on pasta.
Other greens add interesting form and color, with their own unique flavors. Mache, (Valerianella locusta) also known as corn salad, has a sweet, nutty flavor. Endive and radicchio have slightly bitter taste. Curly endives, such as ‘Tres Fin,’ have finely dissected, curly leaves. Oriental greens round out the medley.
Whether you are gathering lettuce, chard, spinach, kale, chicory or other greens, you can get the most out of these leafy plants by picking only as many outer leaves as you will use for the next meal. As long as the temperatures stay at least ten to fifteen degrees above freezing during the day, the plants will continue to produce new leaves at the center of the plant. Instead of cutting and bringing in the entire plant, harvesting a few leaves at a time can extend the harvest through winter right into early spring—if the weather cooperates (or you have a cold frame.)