Gaunt’s Garden: Autumn Gardening Guide
As summer nears its end, flora bats (and similar folk) who’ve been frequenting local markets and tending to their gardens will soon find their summer favourites out of season. Certain foods can still be grown indoors, but if you’re planning on sowing seeds for fall and securing food for the winter, now’s the time to be planting. FG’s rounded up and narrowed down some of the hardiest and earliest-maturing varieties available. And if foodscaping’s just as important as taste, know that the majority of the variants selected would fit at home in any Goth’s garden.
Gardening now? Won’t it be too cold?
When cool breezes start to sway, root, pod, and vegetables belonging of the Brassica family are the go-to crops for the autumn garden. Some gourds and squash do extremely well too, and all these vegetables tend to be hearty enough to withstand the first frost, so as long as the conditions are right.
So…what’s good for autumn?
Members of the Brassica family include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, turnips, rutabaga, and Chinese cabbage.
Hearty greens including chards and spinach do well in cooler temps as well.
Root vegetables like beets, carrots, onions, and radishes can do so well that they could survive the winter so you have crops first thing in spring.[slideshare id=38522072&doc=gglateseasonguide-140830162606-phpapp01]
So, what should be done in preparation?
One of the first things you should do before starting your autumn garden is check the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map and a Farmer’s Almanac to see when the expected first frost date is where you live. Depending on where you are, you might have to give or take a few extra weeks when estimating seed to maturity times for your plants, since the chill will slow down plant growth. You can actually check this site out to find the average frost dates for each city in the US. If you’re familiar with frost dates, then you can figure out just how late you can get planting. Most of the varieties listed below will try to get your crops from seed to maturity grown by 90 days.
With that out the way, you’ll need to figure out your soil conditions. If gardening is already happening outdoors, chances are the soil quality is being looked after and cared for. However be sure to utilize compost and/or organic fertilizer to replenish the nutrients used from summer harvests. If unsure about soil conditions, take the time to purchase a pH kit to check soil acidity, and physically survey the soil. The ideal soil would be loam, however if unattainable, raised beds or container gardening could work for most of these crops. If container gardening, just be sure to use appropriate sized containers that offer adequate drainage. So for herbs and lettuce, a shallow container would be superior. Conversely, when growing root vegetables, using a deeper and larger container would be the best bet.
Regarding these winter veggies, it’s good to know that nitrogen-rich soil is most appropriate for broccolis, cabbages, and similar leafy greens. Root vegetables and tubers would be more comfortable with soils rich in phosphorus and potassium. When buying fertilizer, look for the N-P-K, or Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus/Phosphate (P), and Potassium/Potash (K) numbers on the back. Garden writer R.J. Ruppenthal’s book Fall and Winter Gardening: 25 Organic Vegetables to Plant and Grow for Late Season Food suggests a balanced fertilizer would have a pattern of 5-5-5, 4-6-2, or 7-4-2.
Oh, and if you’re container gardening, don’t just plop outside soil into a pot and sow seeds–chances are that’s not going to work. Instead, go ahead and purchase an organic potting mix and fuse that with compost for optimal container gardening results.
Cool, so the soil’s squared away. Now what about the seeds?
FG’s perused over 30 seed catalogues to hunt down the most suitable variants for the autumn garden. The bulk of these can be purchased online at shops including Seed Savers Exchange, Pinetree Seeds, Annie’s Heirloom Seeds, and more. The seeds listed in this guide are all GMO-free, with most being organic and/or heirloom seeds. If you want a collective list of seed catalogues, check out this article over at about.com that lists seed catalogues from around the globe.
–This guide is particularly long, so if you want to see information about a certain crop, just click to jump to a section.–
Arugula: Regarding this hearty, spicy staple for good pestos, there are only a few variants available. There’s the ever-popular Rocket/Roquette variety, Apollo and Sylvette. Each of these will provide peppery greens after 35-45 days.
Note: You want to get to these greens while they’re young. You can also let them bolt, which will allow them to produce edible flowers that are also yummy. Grow these guys in a shallow container, and they should germinate in about a week.
Beans: Be they pole, bush, or runners, beans grow fast and up, so be sure to give them something to climb on as they get taller. If you can wait a little longer, try Dragon’s Tongue, Royalty Purple Pods, Purple Trionfo Violetto or Black Valentines—they’ll be ready to harvest in 50-70 days. Purple Queen beans are especially lovely, since they turn from pitch purple to luscious green when cooked. Coco Noir’s a gorgeous dry bean that takes 75 days to mature, and would do well in southern regions where warmth lingers. Check out Calypso beans as well–they have a ‘Cruella de Vil’ look to them.
Note: Apparently, beans are able to produce their own nitrogen when exposed to Rhizobia bacteria. Supplying your beans with composted soil along with coating beans with Rhizobia inoculate would make for a better harvest and increase yields. Also, be sure to supply pole (and runner) beans with…well, poles. They like to climb, making for lots of food in minimal space, so take advantage of this! Lastly, bush beans will give you one wave of beans. If you want to continuously grow bush beans, sow new seeds right before the existing pods mature. Pole beans are different; as soon as they look tender, pick them off so the plant will grow more.
Beets: Just so you know, the root and the leafy greens of a beet are both edible, making them an economical, no-waste choice for cool months. As an added benefit, most beet varieties grow fairly quickly. Look into the Early Blood Turnip, Boltardy, and Crosby Egyptians, as they boast maturation in as little as 45 days. If you’re looking for white beets, you can try the 50-day Albino, or the classic Detroit White/Dark Red. Bull’s Blood is a favourite, as it’s entirely red–good to eat or dye fabrics with.
Note: Regarding beets, be sure to give these guys space when planting. 10″-16″cm apart is a good distance to space seeds. It’s good to also know that beet seeds come in clusters, so just plant them along with your cabbages and radishes. Whatever you do though, keep them away from the beans, chard, and spinach.
Wait, what about sugar beets?
Some time ago, the sugar beet industry decided to go 100% GMO. This (to this day) makes it difficult for heirloom and organic farmers to completely claim their own sugar beets weren’t cross-contaminated with GMO-genes. In most cases, farmers will test to see if their crops have been exposed, but it’s a challenge to find a heirloom, GMO-free sugar beet.
Broccoli: Santee’s a hybridize broccoli that produces purple florets and takes 80-115 days to mature. If you can’t wait that long for the goods, try the Early Purple Sprouting type, which matures in roughly 60 days. There’s also the ever-lovely Purple Peacock, and the fast maturing Rosalind. If you don’t want to dine on royal-coloured broccoli (why?), Calabrese broccoli’ a classic that’s ready to go in 60-90 days, and Green Emperor‘s a 70-day variant that does well in warmer climates. And who could forget alien broccoli?
Note: Broccoli needs to be started indoors, so as soon as you get the seeds, sow them in soil that’s roughly 75F (~24C) in temp. You’ll need to transplant them later into the ground or container roughly after a month. The variants listed are meant to get you your food before first frost, but if the conditions are right, they can thrive through the winter.
Cabbage: Another crop that does really well in cool/cold weather is the versatile cabbage. There are hundreds of available varieties, but between us some of the best are also the quickest. Red Express and Purple Savoy cabbage can be ready for soups in 60-65 days, give or take a few. Gonzales is a quick, mini-cabbage that’s mature in 55 days, and Copenhagen‘s a classic green that takes 65 to mature. Baby cabbages (a.k.a. Brussels Sprouts) you can try include the Long Island Improved (85 days) and the Churchill (80-90 days) variants.
Note: Space is important with these guys, so make sure they get lots of it. Red cabbages are more pest-resistant than their green variants if worms are an issue. If rabbits live near you, plant onions around your cabbages to deter them. As soon as you get the seeds, start them indoors as soon as possible and transplant after a few weeks–they’re going to need every day. Oh, and keep your beans away from your cabbages.
Cauliflower: Cauliflower’s the close cousin of broccoli, so growing practices will be very similar. Amazing can be ready in 68 days, and Early Snowballs can be ready in as little as 55. If you want a bit more pop with your food, Violet of Sicily and Graffiti are rich purples and Cheddar a sharp yellow/orange that’d look appealing on any plate.
Note: For your white cauliflower variants, unless they are “self-blanching”, you’ll have to cover the head of the cauliflower with its leaves. Sunlight will give the cauliflower a yellow tint through natural discoloration. Just know that when you harvest the heads of your cauliflower, the crop’s finished.
Carrots: There’s so much that can be done with carrots, and like cauliflower, there are tons of colourful varieties you can choose to plant. Atomic Red, Cosmic Purple, Deep Purple, Lunar White, and White Satin carrots steer you clear from the typical orange variants and are ready to harvest by 70 days. Dragon Carrots are quite popular as well, but will take you roughly 85 days. If you’re not feeling experimental, Minicore carrots can be ready in 55 days, and Tendersweet’s a great snacking variety that’ll run you 70 days.
Note: Carrots are bad-ass in containers and relatively easy to care for. They don’t transplant well, so sow seeds into the soil directly with a little compost, as that will go a long way. If your container is big enough, you can do a little companion gardening by adding peas or shallots to the mix–just remember to give them adequate nutrients and minerals, since they’ll be competing for resources. However, don’t grow dill or parsnips with carrots–that’s a no-no.
Collards: A southern tradition that requires a bit of skill to prepare cooked, collards are a staple at holiday table settings, whether you celebrate them or not. Georgia Southern and Champion are by far most common, with their huge and hearty leaves. Vates are Morris Heading are pretty popular too. All of them should be mature in around 75 days, if not before then.
Note: You can pick your collards early, but if you want the big ol’ leaves, you have to space your collard seeds out and then pick off baby greens so the bigger ones can flourish. Remember, since collards are a member of the Brassica family, they don’t want to be near pole beans. Instead, pair them up with herbs including rosemary, peppermint, dill, and sage. Or, you could tag them up with onions and scallions.
Endive: If you’re wondering what this plant is, it’s a member of the chicory family that adds a bitter or delicate flavour to salads or soups, depending on the type. Maraichere Tres Fine is quite popular taking only 50 days to fully mature, and Rhodos and Batavian Broad Escarole are common too. Cornetto di Bordeaux Escarole‘s great if you’re looking for a full-sized crop in 65 days. If you’re looking for Belgium endive, there’s the Totem and Redoria variants as well, but Redoria seems to be quite popular, so you might have to look around a bit. Just note that Belgian endive tends to take a little longer to mature–around 115 days.
Note: Not really much to say here. It’s a very common base for salads. Sow the seeds and then transplant them after 4-5 weeks. Try it out!
Kale: While the hipsters pray to the ruffle-leafed gods, you cannot deny the nutrient-dense, over-versatility of the kale plant. Perhaps the best for a fall garden, if frost does hit, chances are your kale will power through and provide you with food for the winter, so you don’t have to fear the cold with this plant too tough. If you want a kale that’ll spring out at you, Lacinato, or Black Dinosaur kale is great, and will be ready in 80-90 days. There’s also the 60 day Red Russian, Dwarf Siberian and Scarlet varieties. Redbor will provide you with rich wine red leaves (55 days), and Red Ursa‘s got this ombre colour from the leaves to the stem (60-70 days).
Note: You can actually directly sow these guys into the soil about four weeks or so from frost date. Harvest them while they’re still babies. Alternatively, if you want a full head of kale, just be sure to provide adequate spacing. And kale can be consumed in so many ways–juicing them is just the tip of the iceberg.
Kohlrabi: Kohlrabi’s an interesting member of the Brassica family that’s also extremely versatile. The vegetables comes in green or purple, and you can grill, bake, boil, or steam these bulbs to bring out their mild and delicate flavours. Of course, you could eat them raw too or pair them up with other fruits and vegetables. No worries, you got options. The most common kohlrabi types are the White Vienna and Purple Vienna, with early variants maturing at 55 and 63 days respectively. Azur Star seems to be the earliest purple, boasting maturing at 60 days.
Note: Be sure to provide adequate drainage for this plant, and make sure there’s lots of compost for these guys, as Kohlrabi can be a demanding crop. If you want to pair them up with pals, beets and onions will create a mutually beneficial relationship between them all.
Lettuce: So many types, so little time, so we’ll steer clear of the regular greens and give you the real gems. Most lettuces will be ready to go from 40-60 days. It’s best to grow different varieties together, such as Bronze Arrowhead, Lolla Rosa, Red Velvet and Merveille de Quatre Saisons. Rhazes blooms like a rose, and tragically-named Outredgeous sports a pungent, blood-red colour. Flashy Trouts Back and Flashy Butter Oak are a few more alternatives, but really. Just take some time and find lettuce seeds that you like for their flavour, texture, and appearance. Screw bagged salad altogether.
Note: Lettuce works really well with onions, carrots, and radishes–they’ll provide ground cover so the soil isn’t beamed on by the sun, and they help make the other veggies taste good too. Since it’s autumn, you won’t have to worry too much about bolting lettuce. Lettuce loves cool weather and ample moisture, so just provide the goods and reap what you sow.
Onions: Stews, soups and other simmerables cannot be made (properly) without the mighty onion. That being said, finding types that matures quickly and stores well is very important. Long Red Florence and Red Wethersfield are good choices. Yellow Granex is a popular white onion, and Gabriella makes gorgeous globes suitable for roasted onion blooms.
Note: While you can grow onions from the seed, letting aged onions sprout and then planting the bulb is extremely more time efficient. However, if you wanna start from seed, sow the seeds in trays (not cells) about two months before last frost. Later, transplant them and tend to them normally.
Also, there are short-day onions and long-day onions. Warmer climates should go ahead and purchase short-days, while northern areas should go with the long-days instead.
Peas: Along with the onion, peas are most at home in soups or bunched together. There aren’t too many obscure varieties for your garden, but the Blue Podded Pea‘s an old Dutch variety that has pretty flowers and graying-brown peas inside (85-100 days.) Green Arrow (~70 days) and Sugar Ann Snaps (58 days) are classics with lots of peas to a pod, and the Asparagus, or Winged Pea blooms some really gorgeous flowers (60-75 days).
Note: Peas tend to be broken down into three categories. Snaps can be entirely eaten, pod and all. Shelled varieties are ones where you just eat the seeds. Snow peas are flatter, and not as sweet, but can be eaten the same way as Snaps.
Most varieties are dwarfed, but in the case of a taller plant, a trellis or stake is mandatory.
If there’s one thing you should take away from this about peas, it’s to watch the soil. Keep it moist, but make sure the soil has proper drainage and doesn’t get soggy. Otherwise, you’ll be facing a really sad case of root rot. Keep peas away from onions and relatives. Instead, stick peas near your spinach and radishes.
Radishes: Nothing in your garden will match the maturing speeds of the radish. In just a month, you can have lots of mildly spicy and crisp radishes. Container planting these will work just fine under certain conditions, so try varieties including the Black Spanish Round, Nero Tondo, White Icicle, Early Scarlet Globe, and the ever-classic French Breakfast. If you’re looking for something a little more interesting, try the Watermelon (a.k.a. Red Meat) variant; when you cut them open, they’re a bloody red. How cute!
Note: Don’t waste any part of the plant. Boil down the leaves in soups and if the roots start flowering, pick those for your salads. Growing these guys in a container can be pretty tricky, so keep a close eye on them by making sure your radishes get enough water. If you want to plant these guys around another crop, radishes will help out squash, and leaf lettuce will help make radishes more tender. If you plant on rotating, don’t do it with Brassica family members.
Turnips: Similar to radishes, you can eat both the root and the leaves. Certain varieties are more suited for salads, while others can work well in soups. The most common turnip would be the Purple Top White Globe maturing at 45-65 days, but other cool varieties include the Early Blood Turnip (48-68 days), Hinona Kabu (45 days) , Golden Ball (45-65 days), and Shogoin (30 days).
Note: If you like rutabagas as well, tend to them the same way you would your turnips, since they’re similar. Apparently, you can plant your peas with your turnips, and that will help them along. Turnips tend to keep really well, so be sure to save some for the thick of winter-future you’ll appreciate it!
Scallions: Green onions, spring onions, whatever you wanna call them: let it be known that there is a place for them in lots of savory dishes. Evergreen Hardy Whites (65 days) are classics for cooler seasons, but the Deep Purple scallions (60 days) will add a much appreciated pop to main courses. Flagpole scallions are also a pretty good choice.
Note: The bulbs might take a little time to grown depending on how big the bulb will get, but after a couple months they’ll be ready to harvest. Keep scallions away from peas, but scatter them about your cabbage-family fronds. Starting your scallions out from seed and then transplanting is never a bad idea; consider it if you’re garden’s somewhat in a rush.
Spinach: Giant Winter spinach is the best bet for cool weather, maturing around 50 days. If smaller leaves for salad are your thing, you can try the Winter Bloomsdale variant, which is ready in 45 days. America spinach are a compact Bloomsdale type with darker savoyed leaves (43-55 days), and curious but rare Strawberry Spinach has an extended amount of uses beyond eating due to their fruits.
Note: Changes are you’ll get to enjoy your spinach before first frost. However, even if it does get cold, never fear–Spinach is built tough! Spacing will determine how big the leaves will get. If you want baby greens, then plant them very close together. Otherwise, lend them a little elbow room so they can flourish.
Swiss Chard: Chard tends to illuminate farmer’s market stalls with their fiery colors, but they’re more than just ornamental veggies. Rainbow mix chard will brighten the garden after 60 days (30 if you want baby leaves). Grow some Red Rhubarb to go in pies and other sweet dishes (50-60 days). For less flashy varieties, Fordhook and Lucullus tend to be popular as well, clocking full maturity at 55-60 days.
Note: Chard’s another crop that does pretty well in pots. Just be sure to provide good drainage and compost. Apparently, adding seaweed to the soil will make the leaves pop even more. These can be started in cells and then transplanted, but you can sow them straight into the soil as well.
Squash: Just like potatoes, squash have a vast assortment of colorful and flavour-rich variants. There’s roughly two types of squash–summer and winter, with pumpkins hanging out in the winter squash territory. Acorn squash is by far the most popular and well-known, and tends to be ready to roast in the oven around 90 days. Beautiful dark squashes include Tiptop (92 days), Tuffy (90 days), Honey Bear (85 days), Burgess Buttercup (85-100 days), and Musqee de Provence (110 days). Oh, and Winter Luxury‘s a nice-sized pumpkin with sweet enough flesh for pumpkin pies.
Note: Squash are very demanding, requiring lots of nutrients and lots of space. If you’re going to try container gardening these guys, you might as well stick to one per pot. Since autumn gardening’s a race against the clock, you might want to start your squash indoors and then transplant outside.
When growing squash in a raised bed/bare ground, the moment developed fruits start to emerge, prop them up off the ground so pests and critters can’t get to them. Also, timing the harvest is important–pick them too soon, and they won’t taste good, let alone last.
Since squash are sensitive, if the first bits of frost hit, protect the rows by providing a row cover.
Of course, you can grow a variety of dark, yet tasty herbs as well to complement the rest of what’s growing in your garden. Purple Dark Opal and Rosie basil can be grown indoors if need be. Purple Sage is tricky to find, but does exist, and herbs like dill, chives, rosemary and more are readily available at various seed shops for planting. It would be in your best interest to companion plant certain herbs with certain crops.
So, there ya have it. Must be nice, now knowing that you can nourish the darkness within physically through delicious food. But you haven’t any time to waste–in fact, as soon as you finish here, you should really order your seeds and get planting! Otherwise, you’ll be in Wilson’s shoes, and will have no other choice than to succumb to the winter markets–or worse.
Don’t do it to yourself. Take feeding into your own hands. It’s well worth it.
Wait, wait a second, where are the potatoes?
Ah, the lovely potato. Yes, it is indeed a crop that can be grown in the cooler climates, but at the moment, buying spuds to sprout is currently impossible, especially for the really nice varieties! Check out the Potato Garden yourself to see the variants they had in stock. You can still go to your local farmer’s market and grab a few spuds to cut up and plant directly in soil or a container.