Fall is an important time in our gardens. Gardens require work in the fall, if we clean up and maintain them this time of year then by spring our plants will look better and gardening will be easier. As well many vegetables look better and taste better after being kissed by the frost. This week we're in the stunning mountains of North Carolina at the Mountain Air Country Club in Burnsville, North Carolina. Their community garden provides the backdrop and the lessons for this week. Patryk Battle is the resident horticulturist and he is a walking gardening encyclopedia.
Mountain Air's members come from many different walks of life but hare the enjoyment of communion with nature and the abundance of the garden. Robert feels that gardens bring out the generosity in all of us. It is a rare gardener that doesn't send a visitor home with at least one item, whether it be seeds, cuttings, a rooted piece of Thyme or something else. A garden is a wonderful place for people to interact with each other and with nature.
Cool season vegetable gardening is a favorite of Patryk's. The rush of summer has passed and things slow down. Insect pressures are backing off and weeds are growing slower. The best salads, cooking greens, broccoli and many other cool weather crops are their best in the fall. It is during this time, as temperatures are going down slowly, that these plants put on a lot of growth, they sweeten up and come into
their prime as frost moves in.
For a good fall garden, for things like Broccoli and Brussel Sprouts, start them in the garden, get them in the ground in June, or mid summer. Crops like Spinach should be in the ground by the middle of August. If in a very hot part of the country it may be helpful to start them indoors otherwise they won't mature until late in the growing season and then they'll grow slowly because during this time of year we
deal with not just the onslaught of cold but the absence of light as days get shorter. About 4-6 weeks before frost have some good sized plants in the ground so the roots can grow. Even though outside temperatures may be cold above ground, below ground it isn't as cold.
Some plants may initially suffer from the dog days of summer if planted
early but they'll come on strong later.
Crops like tomatoes and squash are not good fall crops. Low light combined with rain and humidity means they will be effected by fungal diseases causing problems. Plants that will thrive this time of year will be things like Broccoli, the Cabbage family, the Spinach family, the Lettuce family and the Beet family.
Patryk is not only growing delicious vegetables but improving the soil. He utilizes a cover crop. A cover crop is a crop that one grows to build the soil, protect the soil from erosion and increase the soils' nutrition for the next season. A cover crop protects the soil from being bare and all the nutrients washing away. If a cover crop isn't planted weeds will move in. Patryk utilizes Legumes for cover crops, often mixing them in between grains. Legumes are a family of plants that have a partnership with a certain type of bacteria. Legumes grow little nodules on their roots. These nodules have the ability to take nitrogen from the air and put it in a form the plant can use, this is referred to as "fixing nitrogen." Legumes are good to grow with grains because grains use nitrogen and the more nitrogen the grain uses the more nitrogen the Legume must make. This approach increases the nutrition for the soil which is an important activity if one is into vegetable gardening. It is the most cost effective way for gardeners to
improve the fertility and PH of the soil.
Patryk shows us a variety of ways to extend the growing season even through winter. Floating row cover is a fabric that is a light weight, a spun bound fabric that can rest over the crop, thus floating row. It doesn't need any support. It is lightweight, looks like fabric, allows breathing and is air permeable. It is easy and best to set up ahead of the first frost. Patryk keeps it rolled up neatly, held in place with hooks which keep it down. He places it on the windward side, usually the west or north side depending on the orientation of ones bed. By placing it on the side the wind is blowing, the wind should then help bring the cover across the bed. Pull it over the crops and allow it to float unsupported over the crop, it shouldn't be too tight, leave some slack so there will be a fair amount of air between the fabric and the plants. For needed additional insulation Robert demonstrates a concrete reinforcing wire in the shape of a tent over the floating row cover. This wire is available at building supply stores and for under $100 one can purchase approximately 150 feet. A clear plastic liner is placed over this frame, with the floating row cover underneath and the frame/plastic liner on top the season could be extended throughout most of the year in most parts of the country, Robert feels as far north as Maine. This means one could be eating Broccoli, carrots, beets, most all crops mentioned throughout winter.
Chopping up downed trees and sending them to the landfill isn't ideal. It's better to use them as firewood or have them chipped up and use them as mulch material or for a walkway. Never combine woodchips with the soil because they rob the soil of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium but they're great walkway material and will gradually break
down providing nutrients for the soil.
Fall vegetable gardening is fun and great eating. Greg Fenstad is the executive chef at Mountain Air Country Club and today he demonstrates how to prepare these vegetables. He uses Japanese Eggplant and some Chitake Mushrooms, tosses them in Olive Oil, making sure they're lightly coated, then lightly grills them. The oil keeps them from sticking on the grill, if too much oil is added it will cause a lot of smoke from the grill. Take the stems off the mushrooms because they are coarse and hard. Grill them on medium to high heat, with the eggplant flesh side down. He then takes baby Boc Choy, some green beans and fall broccoli and lightly sautes them in a wok, coated in olive oil. The green beans and broccoli take longer to cook thus starts with them. Next he adds the Bok Choy and lightly tosses it then adds pea shoots. A little water is added to give a little steam and to finish them off. Greg finishes the meal with grilled local mountain trout which he places in the center of the vegetables. He lightly strikes the dish with Balsamic syrup and sprinkles with Nasturtiums. It not only tastes great but is beautiful as well.
Deer are a problem most everywhere in this country. Everyone has heard the horror stories about deer coming into the garden and eating the entire thing in one night. Here is a system that may keep deer from coming into the garden and eating all your vegetables. Polytape is placed in front of a barrier, in this case a fence. It has been placed about 3 feet away from the fence. The deer as they come into the area can't tell the distance between the polytape and the barrier, the fence, therefore are afraid to jump over it. Deer don't have a good sense of depth perception, thus this is a good way to keep deer out of the garden.
Many fall plants can be ornamental as well as great to eat. The Bright Light Chard, an All American selection, is beautiful. Pansies could be placed in between and it would be beautiful in a container as well as the garden. It's an edible plant, a wonderful fall crop that does well in the fall and cool weather. We next look at Arugula mixed in with
Leaf Lettuce. This is a combination of Red Salad Bowl, Green Romaine and Green Salad Bowl with Arugula. This can be cut to within an inch of the ground and it will come right back, providing another crop. It can be cut this time of year 4-6 times. Giant Red Mustard is also used in salad mixes. It is spicy and another wonderful landscape plant. It takes a lot of cold with no protection and will survive into the low 20's. The smaller leaves have about the same taste, fairly strong, as the larger leaves. The Mature Red Romaine isn't fully mature but remains from an earlier planting and is surviving in this weather. The Red Stemmed Dandelion Patryk is growing is a cultivar and gorgeous. The chef has a Dandelion salad on the menu. It improves with cold weather, more bitter before frost, less bitter after frost. The Arugula also improves with cold weather it is peppery and nutty now but after the first frost will be peppery, nutty and sweet. The Boc Choy used in cooking earlier is a fast grower, by putting several plantings in a bed several successions will follow. Even the stems are succulent and juicy. Patryk also grows Radicchio, it is a green that does best, really thrives, in cool weather. Catalogs call it tangy, Patryk says it is slightly bitter but as it gets cold it gets bitter-sweet tasting. It is a perennial, the root is the same root or similar to the root put in coffee. Chicory, has a root with a lot of stored energy, if not cut too deeply and the crown isn't damaged it will make another head. We've seen Ornamental Cabbage and Ornamental Kale used in the landscape, although not commonly used as food, if a young seedling is used in salad mixes it tastes good. Everything so far has been a leaf but Patryk also has stem and root crops. Corabe is more popular in the midwest than elsewhere but is a nice turnip-like vegetable. It is actually a swollen stem, when complete in a month or so it will be the size of a small apple, quite tasty and juicy. It is a new variety that
is fruity and quite good. Watermelon Radish is so called because as it matures the skin on the outside is green, yet the inside is often rose colored. This is a crop that can be harvested at Christmas and it will be sweet and juicy.
Thank you Patryk. You've provided us with a wealth of information. Hopefully all of us will find ways to garden year round and be able to enjoy these wonderful vegetables.
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