In Vermont, the shortening days of summer and early autumn bring with them a new sense of pace and rhythm in the garden. The color change in the leaves of the plants is a signal that their energy is flowing back down into the earth and allowing for some repose from the activities of production and reproduction. Annuals decompose and become nutrients for future plants, perennials store some energy for next years growth, and soil and gardener alike pause and give thanks.
With these colder days also come a chance to produce a few more late season greens in the vegetable garden. These include lettuce, kale, parsley cilantro, arugula, mustard greens and spinach. Here is a simple system that can be followed by anyone wishing to extend the fall and winter harvest.
Here are crops with dates the dates they can be seeded. The goal is to give the plants time to size up before the real cold temperatures and short day length prevent their growth. Once cold, short days arrive, the crops are "held" at a certain size and harvested as needed. Think of it as living refrigeration.
Spinach: seed August 15 for a fall harvest. Cover with a fine layer of straw to create cooling shade for these seeds. They do not like to germinate in heat. Keep moist as well. Seed September 1st for spring spinach. Once the crop is well established, cover it with a thick layer of straw mulch. Pull back in spring and enjoy spinach in April and early May.
Lettuce: seed August 20th for a fall harvest of baby lettuce. Can take a light frost. Cover with row cover (reemay) to protect from harder frosts.
Arugula and mustards: seed August 20th and September 1st for baby greens for salad mix and braising mix. These plants are very cold hardy and can live under row cover well into November and early December in Vermont.
Lettuce, cilantro, dill, parsley, kale, arugula, mustard greens and bok choi can all be transplanted in September. These will have enough time to size up to and hold under row cover once colder temperatures are upon us. It is a wonderful way to ensure some fresh greens right out of the garden.
Cold frames, row cover, small plastic tunnels made with wire hoops, and cloches are great ways to protect this precious crop of greens. Please see the resources section for links to businesses that offer these tools. There are also lots of ways to make things yourself using recycled materials.
Please contact us if you would like help with any season extension planning or would like to know where to find our plants for your autumn garden.