Oh, Seattle. You do like to keep gardeners on the edge of their trowels.
As an urban farmer of any scale, we wait and wait ’til the climate forces align to plant your summer crops — your tomatoes, peppers, squash and cucumbers. Maybe an heirloom French cantaloupe or pumpkin for the Type A’s.
Then, just as those plants are gaining momentum and a fruit or two, we’re supposed to plant some fall and winter crops! You saved space for that in spring, right?
You’re not ripping out your “Black Krim” tomato or Japanese cucumber now. Depending how those melons are faring, there could be some space there … just saying.
At the start of the season, we must wait until the soil has warmed up enough for those heat-lovers to recognize it as a happy home instead of the freezer section at Trader Joe’s.
Now in the middle, we need to get those plants in the ground soon enough so they can at least get their roots established, if not mature, before we have a killing frost. It’s because we have a preciously short growing season here.
A few vegetables that like a nip in the air are legumes like beans and peas; beets and carrots; greens including arugula, collards, lettuce and spinach; brassicas like kale, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli and cauliflower; onions, garlic and leeks.
Most of those can withstand some frost, except for lettuce, which would require protection from row-cover fabric to grow over winter. Mints and thymes can “live” over winter but usually look molted or melted and generally unappetizing. Consider protecting, replanting or supplementing from the store.
Kales and carrots are reported to taste sweeter after a frost, offering another delicious example in life when doing nothing for a minute can be a good thing.
A few of these crops, however, take 100 or more days to mature, which may or may not be worth your garden real estate. For instance, not having unlocked the power-up key to cauliflower-growing yet, I give it a pass and just buy it at the market.
Leeks and purple-sprouting broccoli, hereafter referred to as PSB, on the other hand, are both so easy, long-keeping and majestically stunning in the garden that they earn their pots on our patio. The leeks soar up 2 and a half feet, topped with white baseballs made of stars that magnetically attract pollinators.
The PSB has magnificent wavy whale-fin leaves in blues and purples, and finally, around April, sends up 3-foot stalks topped with purple broccolini-style florets. I planted some late as an experiment last year.
This spring I wasn’t sure when to harvest them, and then a snow broke the stalk — and while it looked funky, it found a way and grew back! But I was so mesmerized I didn’t really mind the lack of stir-fry.
This year, I’m trying a purple bok choy as well as the PSB. When my blue potatoes come in, it will be quite the party.
Some ways to easily extend your harvest:
• Plant another crop of cool-season veggies if you have leftover seeds or saved seeds from your open-pollinated (non-hybrid) varieties and there is time based on the variety’s “Days to Maturity.”
• Buy starts of cool-season vegetables, checking those tags so you know how and when to plant and harvest.
• Forgo a crop but boost next year’s garden by planting cover crops now that will feed the soil next spring. Fava beans and Austrian clover are two great choices. These help fix nutrients like nitrogen in the soil that may be depleted from past seasons’ growing. The fava beans have gorgeous white and purple flowers in early spring, followed by the edible beans. Then you cut down and dig in the remains to compost in your soil before planting your next crops.
• Sow seeds of microgreens inside. These are sprouts of a lot of the same crops mentioned above, from greens to beets, brassicas and peas, but also sunflowers, the shoots of which are all concentrated with nutrients. Easy to grow in shallow trays, they’re ready to top your salad, soups or smoothies in a few weeks.