How green is your vegetable garden?
Just because summer's long gone and frost is in the air doesn't mean your garden has to be a scene of tawny colors, limp leaves and withered stems.
My garden remains very green, and the first step was staying ahead of the weeds.
Especially after midsummer, we gardeners tend to ease up on weed control, and it's then that heat-loving annuals like lamb's-quarters, purslane and pigweed start to take hold. For me, cooler weather brought quackgrass and creeping Charlie stealthily trying to -- well, creep -- in at the garden's edges. Regular weeding forays through summer and early fall took but a few minutes -- much less than the effort that firmly established weeds would have required.
But lack of weeds alone doth not a garden make, and it was season-long, carefully chosen plantings that provided the lush greenery itself.
Autumn salads begin with spring sowings
I started planting for the present way back in early spring. I sowed kale seeds then that started yielding tasty leaves in early summer and will continue to do so for weeks to come. Brussels sprouts -- for those who like them -- would also be sown in early spring for a harvest that begins about now.
If you had stopped by my garden in late spring, you would have caught me sowing broccoli and cabbage seeds. It was odd to be planting these vegetables just as they were ready for harvest from early spring sowings. Yes, an early spring sowing of broccoli can keep up steam right into fall, but sometimes such plants peter out by midsummer. So I also start some fresh new plants for fall harvest.
Come early summer, I planted seeds of endive and escarole, a bed of which now stands out in the vegetable garden like a frothing sea of greenery.
Through summer I continued planting, selecting vegetables that would enjoy crisp, fall weather, then sowing their seeds according to the number of days they take to mature. So turnips and winter radishes went in in early August, then small radishes a couple of weeks later. Sometime during those weeks I also found space to sow parsley, rutabagas, and autumn's most tender and lush green, māche.
Other vegetables that contribute to an autumn garden's vibrancy include Chinese cabbage and spinach. All these vegetables are green, lush through much of autumn and tasty.
All greenery is not for eating
My last planting of the season, around the middle of September, was just for lushness, not for eating. That planting was of cover crops, which are grown solely for the good of the soil. The cover crop I chose was a mix of oats and field peas. I sowed them in any beds that were cleared of summer crops -- beans or corn, for example -- and were not slated to receive any of the aforementioned fall vegetables.
Now, at about 8 inches high and still growing, the oats and peas will keep rain from washing away soil or leaching out nutrients, shade out any weeds trying to get a foothold, and enrich the ground with valuable organic matter. After frigid weather kills these plants in January or February, their rotting roots will leave behind channels for water and air. Best of all, a dense stand of cover crops, like the rest of the greenery, simply looks prettier than bare soil and decrepit plants.