Where once there was a cat’s-ear-infested lawn, now there are three new beds.
It’s fall, you’ve been working hard all summer, and it feels like it’s time to kick back and take a break. That works for us here in the Pacific NW because usually by early October, we’ve gotten some rain, things have cooled off, and there’s less garden work to be done. Other parts of the country get frost, and that helps too: the plants you’ve been caring for all season just up and die, thus relieving you of at least some of your gardening duties. Resting in fall usually works….except when it doesn’t. This fall has been a little atypical, serving up a long stretch of sunny, warm days and not-so-chilly nights, and so I’m glad I kept some hustle up into September and early October to get in some starts.
Lettuces transplanted on September 27 are behind the curve for this time of year, but a sunny October will push them to completion. Did I know that when I planted them?….no!
One leisurely mid-September Sunday morning, when I was probably in the fall mood not to garden for a change, I somehow stirred myself to plat out three new beds on my front lawn. I could have slept in that morning, but some inner voice said, “Get your fall garden hustle on!” Having transplants at hand, I installed a new garden there and then, layering oyster shell, chicken manure, and planting compost right over the existing grass (which according to long-standing Portland custom we let go brown for the summer).
I knew when I was planting my Lacinato kale and various Romaine lettuce varieties that I was a little behind the curve for good fall growth. Generally I like to have all fall greens in by early September to insure adequate plant size (in other words, something meaningful to harvest) by mid-October, when plant growth under our normally cloudy skies begins a long winter standstill.. But waking up on a September Sunday with a few hours’ span of time open in an otherwise busy life and sensing the drive, I wasn’t going to waste time worrying about being a little bit behind schedule. I had the starts; I had the stuff; I had the motivation. Down went the amendments and in went the plants. And though these late-season, crap-shoot plantings don’t always return maximum yield, it’s falls like this one where the extra effort at season’s end pays off handsomely.
Fall sun really does work wonders. These lettuce need about another two weeks of good growth to approximate market conditions, but they’re good enough for home eatin’ even now.
Growth has been good until now, but this last week, seeing yet another half week of sun in the forecast, I brought out the big guns and liquid-nitrogen fertilized like heck! Generally the garden books tell you not to fertilize this time of year, so as not to encourage the succulent growth which will succumb to winter’s frosty grip, but here’s where paying attention to weather windows can cause you to throw conventional wisdom out the door, exert just a little more effort, and, consequently, have something to eat in late fall as a result. I’m pushing these plants because I plan to take them before the frost can. We’ll have chowed through the lettuce by Thanksgiving (a little piece of Reemay fabric will keep off the light frosts we might get between now and then), and the kale will provide some welcome stir fry greens before things get really cold. Should it collapse in January from over-fertilized tenderness: oh well.
I always look forward to the fall, which bring respite from the long summer season, but I also look forward to not paying $2 a head for organic lettuce in October and November. When the season unexpectedly gave me an opening, I got back in gear and kicked out some late-fall crop.
The clouds and rain are coming soon enough, and I will have the late-late fall and winter to relax… unless, of course, it’s an unusually mild and sunny winter. In that case, it’ll be time for some winter hustle!