There are many reasons to grow a fall garden and cover crops, poetic as well as practical. “Don’t ever let a weed grow up and go to seed”, “your garden won’t harden with plenty of carbon”, “give back to the land and you’ll have plenty on hand”, “keep the garden growing by cover crop sowing”.
The onions are out, the potatoes have petered, the corn is cashed, the beans are burnt and the squash is squished. Say goodbye to the early summer garden, and hello to fall, my favorite gardening season.
I start broccoli, cabbage and lettuce in mid-July. Well, I try to, but the lettuce won’t sprout when the soil temperature is over 75 degrees. Sowing after a cooling rainstorm in mid-August did get some lettuce to come up, finally.
“Don’t plant turnips until mid-August” I was told a long time ago, and it is sage advice. The winter squash patch was mown and the soil rebroken and then harrowed. On this field I seeded a mixture of crimson clover, a little buckwheat, turnip seed and some lime was tossed out and harrowed in.
Sometimes I use sand instead of lime. Turnip seeds are so little that it is hard to get them spread out over the patch. By mixing the seed real well in a bucket of sand, or lime, you can toss it out and get a more even stand.
The same procedure was used nearby for mustard. The variety is Southern Giant Curled. For this turnip patch I planted the traditional Purple Top White Globe.
In the old bean, summer squash and sweet corn field I also mowed, rebroke and harrowed. I plowed furrows through the whole acre and really started having fun. Fourteen rows of kale may be enough for now.
Arugula is a very pungent green that many people love, proving once again that there is no accounting for taste. It is too strong for me. I planted the milder Georgia Collards and then a lettucey chinese cabbage green called Tokyo Bekena. A new one for us is Koji, a hybrid fall green. Mizzuna is a frilly mustard green we always grow, too.
Red Meat looks like a turnip, but it’s a daikon radish. Inside a pale green, baseball-sized globe is a bright red starburst that is delicious right in the field. The specialty turnips we grow include Girl Feather, the White Hakurei and Oasis, the red Scarlet Queen Red Stems and a yellow one called Amber Globe.
It might be a little early for spinach, but I have to try. We love the old heirloom Bloomsdale Long Standing, and are trying a taller one called Viroflay. Later I’ll plant Flamingo Spinach, another of the new, taller varieties.
When I tried to pay for my October bean seed, Lawrence wouldn’t let me because the seed was two years old. It came up fine. He gave me the rest of the sack a few days later as I had a plan.
The potatoes were fantastic this yera, yielding around 500 bushels. The field was mown, reborn and harrowed, and then soon filled with furrows. A rainstorm threatened. Up and down the 700 foot rows I trotted, dropping beans, and covering them up. I finished at little dark and was on the porch when the rain fell.
A month later they are knee high and about to bloom. A mixture of crimson clover, daikons, chinese cabbage and bok choy was tossed over this acre, and then I laid the field by with the last pass of the cultivator. I have about a month to figure out what to do with an acre of October beans.
Other fall covers for the garden will be mixtures of grains and legumes, such as rye and vetch or wheat and peas. These can be sown later than crimson clover and turnips, who need to be in the soil by mid September. Early November sowings of grains and legumes have done well for me.
So don’t abandon your summer garden. A little seed is all you need. Keep it clean by turning it green. Treat is like you lever her. Tuck her under a cover. And you can still grow it without trying to be a poet.