Our September storms brought record rains and an early end to summer. Tomatoes swelled, cracked and rotted on the vine. Basil browned as if burned. Chickweed sensed wintry weather and began its carpet caper, but thankfully October arrived and said, “Now you just hold it right there. These people need some more sun, lest they think winter really has come and they go stark raving mad!” And the Universe abated.
The ten-day forecast shows sunny days and clear nights. While that always bring some chance of frost, night temps are predicted to stay in the high thirties to low forties, and the daytime seems to want to serve it up consistently in the 65-70 zone. This is pure pleasure, and also pure opportunity.
I hastened to the rooftop the other day with the season’s remaining lettuce transplants, dug up from a too-tight planting in August. I literally took trowel to a clump of about 30 young lettuce, grabbed the whole bunch of them with a generous anchor of soil, then soaked the little island in water before transplanting so as to loosen the individual plants. Popped them in and immediately cloched (see photo), so as to take advantage of the unparalleled conditions.
With this little mini greenhouse in place, I hope the lettuce get the hint to grow like crazy while the sun is shining. I’ve also been watering in generous amounts of liquid fish fertilizer. With colder nights, fungal and bacterial activity in the soil is decreasing, so fewer nutrients are being digested and released from the soil stores. Plus it’s the end of the growing season, so those very stores may be low. Liquid fish is great company to keep with plants, but do be forewarned to have a change of clothes on hand if you plan on any human company after your plant feeding. All it takes is one drop on your shirt or pants to turn you into a social pariah.
After setting up the lettuces for success, I immediately went to work seeding mustard greens. As I worked across a freshly-cultivated bed, I realized I was unconsciously helping myself keep track of varieties by cross-hatching my plantings. As you may recall from a previous post, I have a little scrap of metal edging, about 2′ long and 1/8″ thick that serves as my furrow maker and planting gauge. On a rectangular bed I can make those little furrows go with the direction of the bed or against it, and I’ve found that if I alternate directions, as in the photo, then it can help me keep track of what I’m sowing. Human nature being what it is, I do not always make my planting tag the instant I sow some seeds, and the alternating blocks have saved me from much consternation in the past, giving predictable starting and ending points for various types of greens.
My farming mentor Trauger Groh had a great old saying that September was the little brother to May. I took that to mean that the beautiful weather of that first fall-ish month set the stage for a second round of planting that would last through the winter. Well, this year I guess it’s October who is the little, little brother. But that littler brother is stepping right up to the task and offering us a real toe hold for a well-stocked winter. Since September was a derelict, I’m glad somebody in this family of months is stepping up and taking some responsibility!