It’s that time of year again! The mornings are starting to feel brisker, the days are getting shorter and the air cooler, and the stores are bringing out their pumpkin-flavored everything…yes it’s almost FALL! Fall is one of my favorite times of the year, summer can be rather hot and humid in North Carolina and this year was no exception. However, most days were “cool” enough that many of our summer veggies produced really well and, in fact, they’re still producing! We have tomatoes, eggplant, jalapenos, okra, and banana peppers coming out of our ears. I’d like to store some of the extra tomatoes by making homemade pasta sauce and/or salsa and possibly learning how to make sun-dried tomatoes. But, that’s for another post!
With the summer veggies slowly starting to end their season, it was time to turn my attention to creating a fall garden. It might seem early to have to start planting for a fall garden, but in fact, August to early September is actually the perfect time to start planting seeds in our region of North Carolina. Some really good cool-weather crops to grow include greens, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and onions. I decided to start everything by seed and use cover protection as needed. With Nate putting the PVC pipes together to create hoops over the gardens, I’ll be able to add clear covers or shade netting as needed. This post will just focus on three types of greens: spinach, lettuce, and arugula.
Here are my “helpers” below:
I first needed to remove any dying plants from the gardens and enriching the gardens with compost. I’ve been periodically adding kitchen scraps to the compost barrel to create a wonderful-looking compost. After pulling out most of the plants (sunflowers, sage, a couple pepper plants) in the lower garden. I then added several shovelfuls of compost to each garden where I planned to plant seeds and raked the enriched soil into the gardens. Adding extra nutrients from homemade compost gives the soil an extra boost to enrich the soil.
I gathered my supplies (pictured below) and got to planting!
The photograph below shows the area I have to work with in the lower garden. I left an okra plant and several pepper plants that continue to do well so the remaining soil I enriched with compost and cleared of excess pine needles and leaves.
First up, spinach. I haven’t had much luck with growing greens but I’m hopeful that planting the seeds with the weather getting cooler will turn that luck around. Spinach grows best in soil that is well-drained and planted 4-6 weeks prior to the first frost of fall. This green is one of the most cold hardy greens and extremely high in nutrients. It is recommended to sow seeds directly to the soil because transplanting seedlings has a poor success rate. Spinach requires full sun to light shade and the ground needs to be around 70F for germination, any warmer will stunt the growth. When the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, the seedlings should be thinned so that they are about 3-4 inches apart.
It’s now been a few weeks since I first planted spinach and only one set has sprouted and it doesn’t look so hot. I think the issue is that the weather has been slightly too warm for the seeds to sprout, and once they sprout they die off from the sun.
Next, another green…arugula! The great thing about arugula is that it adds a spiciness to a salad and are high in nutrients. Arugula is another cool weather green that does well in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. These leafy plants grow in a rosette-like formation and the plant can be 12 inches tall and wide when ready to harvest. Some like to wait until the plant shoots up a stalk to pull the entire plant and harvest the leaves. Others, like ourselves, like to pull leaves as needed until the taste of the arugula is too strong. The outer leaves should be picked first, thus keeping the plant intact and eatable for the future. Once the plant shoots up a stalk and starts to flower, that’s the end of it’s season. Our arugula has been doing remarkably well. That’s likely due to the fact that we have had some great fall days, and a lot of rain so far.
And the last of our green, lettuce. Lettuce is a great vegetable for any garden because it can be used as a “filler” crop where other vegetables are less likely to grow. They do well in between flower beds or underneath taller vegetables. This green does best in full sun, but can grow well in part shade too. Just as the other greens, lettuce needs fertile, moist, and well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 7. This type of green is great for successional planting, which means growing one variety well suited for slightly warm weather (early Fall) and progressing to hardier leafs later in the year. A cold frame allows some gardeners to grow greens throughout the winter. Like arugula, pull leaves from the outside to keep the plant intact. Lettuce tastes the sweetest when it has some cold weather.
Our “Greens” garden has been doing rather well – especially the lettuce and arugula. So far, the spinach has been kind of a let down, but it may be because they were planted too early. They aren’t the hardiest of greens (at least in my garden!). Below: Lettuce in the middle; Arugula on the right; there are a couple of tomato sproutlings on the left that have recently started to grow!