As we enter the dog days of summer, I see many local farmers and back yard gardeners preparing for the fall growing season. The brutal heat and drought we have been experiencing this year forced many to abandon their summer gardens, leaving already heat-stressed plants to fend for themselves while we humans retreated to cooler indoor environments. For me, fall gardening presents an opportunity to try again and take another crack at growing food during more tolerable conditions, grow tastier food and save money.
Late summer is the perfect time to set up a new garden. The ground is dry and tillable, if you plan to break up the soil using a roto-tiller. Plant freshly tilled soil right away, then use cover crops on any leftover space to ensure that your new garden will be fertile and weed free at the beginning of next year’s growing season. Now is also a good time for money saving garden infrastructure projects like building a rain barrel, a cold frame or a hoop house. You can find great deals right now on bulk produce for all those preservation projects you’ve been thinking about, and could be an opportune moment to build that small cold cellar you’ve been thinking about. You don’t need a basement, either. Some friends of mine at Ecovillage did this once by by digging a pit large enough to bury a metal garbage can. Voila–an instant cold cellar!
Local growers in our area are looking more and more to fall as their most productive and profitable time of year. Home gardeners should start looking for fall starts at your local farm stands and nurseries and can direct seed many crops through September. I talked to Chaw Chang of Stick and Stone Farm, a member farm of the Full Plate Collective, http://fullplatefarms.webs.com/ and he had a lot to say about fall growing. “Certain things for fall like beets, lots of other root crops, turnips, brassicas, radishes, Asian or watermelon radishes can all be planted now. Other crops including broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, Napa cabbage, escarole, and some lettuces should be planted now as starts. You should also start planting direct seeded stuff like spinach and salad mixes, depending on how big you want them all the way into September. If you want to cover things with plastic or Remay (row cover) there’s still a lot you can do. Ornamental kales are also edible, so if nothing else you can plant those. You could plant beans this week; they taste and yield better if it doesn’t get too wet.”
A growing number of growers like Chaw are devoted to their fall and winter production. “Our farm devotes the majority of our acres to fall production in order to have year round yields. We don’t irrigate and depend on Mother Nature to do the watering for us. A lot of these crops in Upstate NY are better suited for cooler weather. They get a lot sweeter. Sugar is mother nature’s anti-freeze. When it gets colder, everything sweetens up. For us, we can have good food and product year round that tastes better. With traditional summer crops like tomatoes and peppers, it’s a gamble. With climate change, it seems to be getting easier but still iffy, springs are more extreme, but in fall we get massive rains that saturate the soil and seems to work out, but it’s still a gamble. We plant and cross our fingers. I really think that if NY got back into real production of vegetables, it would be really wise to focus on cool season crops.” Back when I used to work at the ABC Café I remember my excitement experimenting with fall and winter crops for the first time. They offer a broad range of colors, flavors and a versitille palatte for healthy and hardy meals.
Farmers and home gardeners aren’t the only ones preparing for fall growing. GIAC has been growing a garden at the corner of Court and Albany Sts. for several years and the Summer Conservation Corps has been hard at work improving the site and starting plants to distribute in the community. Working with Gardens 4 Humanity, they will be sharing Broccoli, PacChoi and Cabbage starts with the community. Check our website www.ccetompkins/g4h for dtaes, times and locations. They have also learned some carpentry skills and are raising money for future garden improvements by selling picnic tables that they built. You can see a sample picnic table at the GIAC garden.
For me, fall growing is the gateway to a long winter of tasty warming foods. What an adventure it has become to visit the winter farmer’s market or trudge out into my snow covered garden to pick tough dino kale leaves for dinner. I can already imagine the smells wafting out of a toasty kitchen at the first pot luck of winter and I am so looking forward to sharing my roasted roots with friends and sampling their creations.
Want to get connected to local food? Come out to the 2nd annual Food Justice Summit on September 22 at the Neighborhood Pride Grocery in the Northside. For more cool ideas on eating local food and saving money, check out www.getyourgreenback.org.