Published: Sep 16, 2008 12:55 PM
Modified: Sep 16, 2008 12:55 PM
Few, if any, Southern gardeners would classify September as a glorious month.
With summer crawling to a close, plants are bedraggled and so am I. More than 10 inches of much needed rain has fallen in the past few weeks, and the resulting humidity, mosquitoes and damp soil make it tough to find the enthusiasm to get out there and work. But there are benefits to spending time in the garden now.
Though our energy is about tapped out, we know fall is just around the corner, and that helps motivate us for one last push to transition the garden from summer to fall. Weeds are exuberantly making seed; pulling them now before they mature will reduce the number next season.
Summer vegetables are a horror show. Rotting tomatoes hang in soupy sacks on leafless brown vines, squash plants are covered with mildew and bugs, eggplant leaves are peppered with flea beetles and the holes they've munched. Taking out the plants that are dead and dying can reduce future disease and insect problems and free up space for fall crops.
And it's not all muck, weeds and death. We are still harvesting a variety of green and shell beans such as Borlotto, flageolet and Asian yard long beans as well as purple hull peas. Sweet red and yellow peppers are now ripe, and chiles are at their peak. Eggplants are bearing despite the bugs. Zinnias are still flowering, and mums and asters will soon offer one last burst of bloom before frost.
Fall vegetables should really be planted in August, but I can never quite motivate myself to the task when the thermometer is still hovering near 100. With our long warm falls, which seem to be getting longer, it's possible to plant in September and grow many vegetables up to Thanksgiving and beyond. With the use of floating row covers on the coldest nights, we harvested into January last winter.
You can plant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards and cabbage seedlings and sow seeds for greens, lettuce, spinach, cilantro and radish. Pop in a couple of handfuls of onion sets and you'll have green onions all winter.
The fall vegetable garden is easier and lower key than the summer garden; there are fewer bugs, weeds and less watering. Plants grow slowly, so the incessant need to harvest and process is diminished.
Just as my body is ready for a change in weather, my mouth is ready for a change of taste to the autumn treats of tender spinach and lettuce salads, stir fries of bok choy and tatsoi, and plates of garlicky kale and collard greens. If you've not grown a fall garden before, throw out a few seeds and plants and see what happens. I think you'll be amazed at the rewards a small amount of space and effort can provide.
Maria Hitt writes, cooks, gardens and studies nature in the countryside near Carrboro. You can write to her at email@example.com
or visit her blog at 2008 The Chapel Hill News