Thursday, December 12, 2013
By TOM ATWELL
It is time to plant some vegetables.
While I have written many times that you should plant your cold-weather crops on Patriots Day weekend (peas, greens, carrots and beets, among others) and your warm-weather crops on Memorial Day weekend (tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, beans and more), that does not mean your job is done.
Late June through even as late as September is the time to plant the vegetables you will be eating in the fall and winter. It is a practice that commercial farmers use to maximize their production.
"We succession plant throughout the year," said Stacy Brenner of Broadturn Farm, 388 Broadturn Road, Scarborough. "You can plant anything that the seed catalog says has enough days to produce before the first frost or hard freeze, depending on the plant."
Brenner said the rule of thumb for Scarborough is to plan on the first frost for the third week in September. "But watch the weather," she advised.
The earliest frost Nancy and I have had at our Cape Elizabeth home in 30 years of gardening was Sept. 20, but it has come as late as mid-October.
Brenner said the mainstay of late planting at Broadturn Farm are the brassicas, also called cole crops. They include broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale and kohlrabi.
Planting these vegetables late in the summer offers several advantages.
"In the fall we don't have the pest pressure of the flea beetle, so we don't have to put the row covers on them," Brenner said. "They get pretty chopped up in the spring. Also, when we put them in later, we don't have the same weed pressure because many of the weeds are germinating in the spring."
As a downside, the weather tends to dry out, so the crops need some irrigation.
A note in the summer catalog for Seeds of Change, an organic seed catalog out of Spicer, Minn. (seedsofchange.com), says that brassicas taste better when planted as a fall crop.
"When exposed to cooler temperatures," the catalog says, "cole crops gather sugars in their tissues which act as an antifreeze to protect leaves from freezing and give the plants a sweet flavor. This unique quality allows gardeners from New Jersey to Maine to enjoy winter gardening."
Root crops -- including radishes, beets, carrots, parsnips and rutabaga -- are another obvious choice for fall gardening. They will stand all but a very hard frost, so they continue growing late.
Carrots stay fresh in the ground even after the first few snowfalls, so you can go out and harvest them right up until Christmas.
Radishes mature and go past their prime quickly, so you should plant every few weeks if you want them all year.
Lettuces and other greens are cold-tolerant and mature quickly, so they are great for succession planting all of the way through September. It is important to us to have good lettuce available in late August when the tomatoes are at the peak so we can have a lot of excellent tossed salads.
It also is a good idea to plant another crop of beans about now. Brenner said they do not like frost, so they will die earlier, but the vines you planted Memorial Day weekend will begin to lose vigor well before the first frost.
Seeds of Change recommends peas as a fall crop.
"We have tried it and haven't been successful," Brenner said. Her comment made me feel better, because we have tried and failed at growing fall peas several times, and it is good to know we are not alone.
Broadturn sells flowers as well as vegetables, and the farm stand at Broadturn is open noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday. Broadturn's area at Aurora Provisions, 64 Pine St., Portland, is open 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Seeds of Change recommended a couple of things that were new to me and might be worth trying.
It recommends planting a variety of leek called Scotland in fall so it overwinters and is ready for harvest in early spring. And it recommends putting in some potatoes in September to mid-October for a spring harvest.
The question is: Would we want potato-leek soup in the spring as well as in the fall, when we now enjoy it?
Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: