Field of Science

Fall crops for the kitchen garden

Here's a practical advice posting for all of you not so experienced kitchen gardeners out there.  Gardens are not almost done!  Now is the time to plant some fall crops.  Mostly these are like spring crops, but planted now.  TPP's favorite fall crops are salad greens, especially mesclun, a mixture of lettuces & mustards, spinach, bok choi and other Chinese cabbages.   These will all grow well in cool weather and the shorter days of fall.  They mature rapidly (less than 50 days) so you still have time, but get going on this.  Bok choi and cabbages are really tough and they have remained in my garden sometimes until late November if given just a little protection.  If you have limited space then the champion has to be baby (dwarf) bok choi (image).  You can even grow them and the salad greens in containers (window boxes are a good choice) which are easy to move to more protected locations if necessary.  Since these are all leafy vegetables, giving them a dose of fertilizer early on is a good idea especially if they are being grown in an area vacated by other crops.  For nice heads of leafy lettuce follow this simple rule based on the fundamental understanding that everyone plants small seeds too densely.  Once the seeds have germinated, pinch out enough such that their spacing is at least 1 inch.  By the time the seedlings are 2" tall, thin them to 2" apart.  Eat the thinnings.  You know how much they get for baby greens?  By the time the seedlings are 4" tall, thin them to 4" between plants (keep eating).  Then continue thinning as the plants grow to 8" or so in spread.  The baby bok choi doesn't need quite so much thinning; they do OK at 4-6" between plants.  The biggest problem is that early on you need to gently water them because the surface soil tends to dry quickly this time of year and you want these crops to get going.  The bigger cabbages need more thinning.  Row covers, a fine netting work well at keeping insects at bay, but slugs can be a problem.  Put out slug traps, shallow pans, baited with some disgusting light beer that you would never drink anyways, to control the slug population.  Slugs are no more discriminating than the acquaintance who brought and left the light beer for your enjoyment. 

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