Greens Season

Greens Season

Despite the doldrums days that still lie ahead, it's time to start thinking about fall gardens. Yes, even while you are starting to perspire just thinking about picking those tomatoes and harvesting corn, you must start thinking about where you'll plant those cool-season greens.

The first job is to check the condition of your soil. It needs to have plenty of organic matter, says Stevin McNamara, who sells Anam Cara vegetables at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market.

"Compost is key and so is loose soil," says McNamara.

A healthy raised bed could use a boost of soil-building compost to increase moisture retention. But if you are feeling ambitious, you might follow McNamara's lead. He double-digs his beds, incorporating earthworm castings as well as compost.

In this method of soil preparation, a shovel-depth of soil is removed from a row and placed aside. The soil beneath it is loosened with a pitchfork. The next row is dug a shovel-depth, and the soil is placed in the "empty" first row. Again, loosen the earth beneath and continue this process to the far edge of the garden. Into the last row, place the soil first taken out of the garden. It's nice to have a large wheelbarrow or, if there's room, a big tarp to drag over to the last row.

Next on the list: Decide which of the many greens is right for your garden and your dinner plate. Kale comes in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Each has its own flavor, and it's easy to develop a favorite. Red Russian and purple have frilly edges, making them quite ornamental. Dinosaur kale (Lacinato) has narrow, deeply furrowed leaves.

Kale is very cold-hardy and one vegetable that increases its leaves' sugar content as cold weather slows down growth. It should be yummy all winter. Young kale leaves can be eaten raw; older leaves are better cooked, either in stir-fries or lightly steamed.

Mustard greens are less commonly grown but can be used in similar ways. If you are unfamiliar with mustard, some seed companies sell a variety pack, so you can explore a number of types to find a favorite.

These sharply spicy greens can grow quickly. When small, the leaves can be added to salads for a surprising kick but are tender and milder tasting when cooked.

The sharpest taste is in the seed, and the seed of green mustard is used for wasabi, says Esther Lee, customer-service advisor at the Grange Co-op in Medford. They are somewhat frost-hardy, according to "Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley," compiled by the Jackson County Master Gardeners Association, so you could harvest into November.

It's a good idea to start your fall greens in flats during August. These vegetables can be difficult to start in hot weather; having the seeds in flats makes it easier to maintain moisture. Flats are sold in garden-supply centers or can be constructed at home from simple wooden frames with fine screening or landscape fabric stapled to the bottom.

According to Jackson County Master Gardeners, planting can begin in mid-August. McNamara and Lee recommend waiting until the first two weeks of September but not later. Using those parameters, your own garden's microclimate should be the best guide. Plant your seeds at the same time as you plant starts, and you will have an ongoing supply of these nourishing greens.

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