Gardening 101: Salad Days, Cauliflower Nights

The garden is in harvest mode, and maybe you’re sick of weeding. But guess what? It’s time to plant again for fall.
gardening 101

Far be it from me to be the perky cheerleader who rallies the team during a less-than-stellar season. But let me put on my Little Orphan Annie persona for just a moment and give you a bit of a “sun’ll come out tomorrow” spiel. The sun has, in fact, already come out, along with the heat that’s finally helping to turn this summer from a cool, wet nightmare (complete with a wicked outbreak of late blight) into a time of harvest, albeit a fairly small one.

This month we’re happy to have saved enough of our tomato plants to be regularly picking Sungolds and Yellow Pear fruit, throwing a handful of chives and some pattypan squash into a succotash, pickling pepperoncini (Stephen to the rescue), and cooking up rich green kale whose taste alone would be incentive enough to keep on gardening. A lot of us get so consumed with the harvest, and—I’ll admit I’m one of these types—so sick of weeding the crabgrass that seems to reseed itself overnight, we’re ready to kick back and take what the garden has to give without putting too much effort into upkeep.

I’m lucky to share my garden with an in-house coach, though, and Stephen has disabused me of the notion that we’re anywhere near done. (He’s channeling my mother, I’m sure of it; or maybe he’s Little Orphan Annie.) August, he reminds me, is time to sow yet more seed—especially for lettuces, beans, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower—that will germinate easily and produce hardy plants by the time the temperatures begin to dip. (Speaking of broccoli, if, like Gourmet writer and frugal meister Hodding Carter, you thought you despised the stuff, perhaps reading about his experience with the flavor-packed freshness of homegrown broccoli will change your mind.) The beauty of this, of course, is that it’s far less work than in the spring, when you’re starting seeds indoors and they’re taking over your living space.

Of course, it’s important to keep the compost coming to keep your soil healthy. Heat makes this chore easier as well, rapidly breaking down your vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and grass clippings and leaves. Put your composting into overdrive now, and you’ll have enough of this organic fertilizer to last through the end of the season.

Stephen and I are using seeds we had left over from our spring planting, but in browsing through the selection of cold-tolerant varieties at Johnny’s Seeds, I came across a couple breeds that you may want to try: a beautiful red-tinged French heirloom leaf lettuce called, appropriately enough, Rouge d’Hiver; and a lovely green head lettuce called Black-Seeded Simpson. Both will produce baby lettuces in just 26 days (or from 46 to 58 days for full-size heads).

So, dust off your hoes, kids. It ain’t over til the Brussels sprouts sing.

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