October is a time of transition in the Kitchen Garden. With the last of this year's summer harvest under our belts, it's time to clean up, reflect, and begin planning and planting for the season to come. Our Lead Kitchen Gardener, Cynthia DuVal, is here with updates on our harvest, what's coming up next in our display beds, and some ideas on how to extend the growing season in your own garden.
2021 Harvest Update
Greetings Kitchen Gardeners! Autumn is my favorite time of year, when rains and increasingly cold nighttime temperatures come to remind us that we should harvest and preserve the last of our summer veggies. This past Saturday was Harvest Day at Cornell Farm. We picked all of the remaining tomatillos, tomatoes, and peppers in our salsa garden, as well as the last of our zucchini, cucumbers and fennel. (Our delightful hens also provided us with some eggs!) The nice thing about tomatoes and peppers in particular is that both can be harvested green to ripen indoors on your counter, so you can still maximize your harvest, even when the weather forces your hand.
We had a good harvest from our salsa garden this year. The pepper plants did exceedingly well in terms of quantity and quality of fruit produced, which I attribute to us waiting until the day and night time temperatures were 50°F and above before planting late this spring. We also had good luck with our tomatillos, and if our summer heat had hung on for another week or two, we would have gotten twice the yield. Next year, I’ll plant them in the sun to make up the difference!
Changing with the Seasons
This week, we are working on cleaning up our vegetable beds and containers and switching over to cold-season crops like lettuce, kale, shallots, and garlic. In general, it's always a good idea to pull out your fading edibles, not only to keep everything tidy, but to help minimize the transmission of pathogens to next year's plants. Getting to a blank canvas also provides the perfect opportunity to focus on building and maintaining healthy soil.
Although we aren't demonstrating it this year, planting a frost-hardy cover crop like clover or fava beans is a great way to replenish nutrients and organic matter in your soil. Of course, you might also need to address specific nutrient deficiencies more directly. Our in-ground tomatoes suffered from minor blossom end rot due to a lack of calcium, so I am amending our tomato bed with agricultural lime to replenish the calcium levels in the soil. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so if you are planning to grow yours in the same place you grew them this year, be sure to replenish the nutrients in your tomato bed in the fall; this allows the calcium to break down so it is available for uptake by the plants in late spring.
Extending the Season
If you are still holding onto the last of your summer crops or wanting to give your fall crops a leg up in getting established, there are certain ways to extend your gardening season. This week, you may have noticed frost protective fleece blankets covering some of the plants in the Kitchen Garden. These are a great way to protect plants from the first frosts of the season, as well as keep marginally hardy plants like citruses growing outside later into the fall, where they can soak up more sun.
We are also demonstrating the use of bell cloches to establish and protect new kale starts in their own warm, humid micro-climate. And we just recently put up a pop-up tunnel to protect a crop of romaine lettuce. I personally love romaine, and planting your own is an easy way to save a few trips to the grocery store, as well as cut back on the single-use plastics salad greens are packaged in. Romaine is a great choice for growing under a tunnel, because it is low-growing, but you could also try other cool-season greens or root vegetables like beets. We documented the process so you could follow along at home.
Setting Up a Poly Tunnel for Fall Veggie Starts
1: Gather your materials and pick a sunny spot. In Portland, skies are overcast for much of the winter, so I wanted to give our romaine starts the best chance of soaking up as much sunlight as possible. In our display garden, this meant gardening along a fence line where we had sunflowers planted this past summer. Since I knew I was going to be using one of the reusable polyethylene tunnels we got in this year, I also stopped to make sure I had enough space for all 11 feet of tunnel, because I didn't want to have to break out the scissors.
2: Prepare your soil. After cleaning out last year's crop and measuring out my area, I worked up the top layer of soil and raked out any remaining roots or large rocks. Then, I amended the soil with compost, chicken manure, and worm castings to help lighten everything up and reintroduce nutrients and organic matter to our clay soil. I also wanted to raise my planting are up a little, since drainage can be a problem in this portion of our garden.
3: Make your planting holes. Since the tunnel I chose is all-in-one and easily expands like an accordion, I went ahead and laid it out beside my planting area so that I could visually space out my planting holes more easily. I started with a single six pack of romaine starts, leaving roughly a foot between each; however, I plan to come back and add a succession planting in a couple of weeks. Once I had my holes dug to the depth of my starts' root balls, I tossed handful of Sure Start into each hole to help introduce good soil microbes and nutrients.
4: Plant your starts. Removing the romaine starts from their packaging as I went (the trick is to squeeze the bottom of the pot, and they just pop out), I placed each start into its planting hole and replaced the soil around it, gently patting it into place. You don't want to pack the soil, but you do want to make sure you don't have any air pockets lingering near the root zone.
5: Set up your poly tunnel. I was able to easily place the tunnel over my row of romaine starts by moving from one segment to the next and pushing the steel supports into the ground until the plastic was touching the soil, occasionally adjusting my spacing to make sure that the plastic was taut all the way across. Although this tunnel has a drawstring on each end to close everything up and keep pests out, I wanted to encourage some air flow around my starts, so I have left my tunnel open on each end for now. I could have also used a fleece version of this tunnel, which is more breathable, but it doesn't retain as much humidity as the plastic version.
I can't wait for us to harvest the first romaine, and if you decide to plant your own, come tell us about it! One of the joys of gardening is getting to learn from each other and share our successes.
I hope that you’ve all had a good harvest season and are growing all manner of fall and winter veggies. If not, come on down! A fresh batch of gourmet garlic, red shallots, and yellow onions has arrived at the Kitchen Garden greenhouse, plus plenty of tasty kale varieties, cold-hardy parsley and a large selection of herbs, citrus plants, and season-extending garden supplies to help you get the most out of your garden this year.