October in the Veggie Garden

If you think this gardening season is over, you have to see my veggie garden. It's filled with plants still growing from summer and those planted for fall and winter harvests. I love gardening this time of year - everything grows slower with the shorter days, longer shadows, and cooler temperatures. There are no bugs bothering my plants (or biting me) and plant diseases seem non-existent. Hardly any weeds germinate, so that cuts back on the maintenance. This is extra-good, since work and life have been keeping me very occupied lately, and my gardening time has been very limited.

Plants which like cooler weather are primarily leafy vegetables, since there aren't bees around to pollinate fruit. Some, like brussels sprouts, won't grow in hot weather and supposedly taste better after a light frost. Others, like lettuces, will survive in temperatures down to the 20s F, even though they won't grow noticeable when it's really cold. Still others, like spinach, will continue to grow throughout our winter here in Zone 7. We've passed our average annual first frost date of October 24th without frost on my garden, and the next ten days don't show temperatures changing much, so the fall crops are in for great growing weather.

Here's what's growing for me now:

  1. AUTUMN - Notice how the leaves have turned color in the last month; our fall weather has been gorgeous this year, and the garden loves it.
  2. JALAPENOS - Everyone I know who has grown peppers this year has a bumper crop. My two jalapenos have produced over 200 pods each and are still going. The one in the red Kozy Koat was earlier to ripen, but production seems equal in both.
  3. SWEET POTATOES - I dug a couple of plants and was disappointed to find very few small potatoes had formed. Now I suspect the plants kept putting energy into regrowing the vines which were eaten by grasshoppers continually all summer, and the energy didn't go into creating roots. I am leaving the remaining plants in the ground for as long as possible, hoping more time will allow potatoes to form.
  4. ONIONS & GARLIC - The onion sets and starter garlic cloves I planted in September have come up great (see closeup photo). Both of these seem to pop up in the garden randomly if you have grown them in the past, so I've also dug and moved some volunteers around. I won't harvest the bulbs until next summer, but I can cut the green tops continually.
  5. BRUSSELS SPROUTS - These plants which I bought as seedlings are now beginning to form their little sprouts at the junction of each leaf with the central stem. The ones I started from seed are only about 2" tall, so I might not have enough growing weather to get them to maturity before winter.
  6. ROMAINE & LETTUCE - I set out seedlings I started indoors for baby romaine and black seeded simpson lettuce, and the Little Gem lettuce I grew last spring and let go to seed has also reseeded itself. I've been picking leaves and am looking forward to good harvests of all these.
  7. SWEET PEPPERS - For many nights when the temps were dipping below 40 degrees I have covered the pimento pepper and Chinese giant pepper plants with heavy black trash bags, since they don't like cold weather, so I am still picking lots of sweet red peppers.
  8. KALE - The kale seedlings are growing strong and I've harvested lots, in addition to the collard plants just below the pointer line. Both are highly nutritious and I am primarily using them raw in my green smoothies.
  9. COLD FRAME - I replaced the cold frame covers when the nighttime temps began to drop below 50 degrees. In the cold frame now are one tomato plant (all curled up on the ground), several parsley plants I will continue to pick from all winter, and one sweet potato plant in a pot (I'm hoping to be able to pick its leaves; might need to move the plant indoors when it gets really cold). I also have potted tiny CELERIAC seedlings in the cold frame, and they are extremely slow growers. I have to watch the temperatures, raising the cold frame tops when it's sunny and warm, and lowering or closing them when the temperature drops.
COLLARDS - These greens have been phenomenal. I think I'd see the leaves grow if I sat a watched! I've only been eating them raw and in smoothies, but I'm getting such strong growth that I'll be trying them cooked soon.
SPINACH - I think I finally found a good way to insure germination of spinach seeds. First of all, they will not germinate in the garden until the temperatures are cool - all my efforts to plant them in August proved futile. I have tried cold stratification (putting seeds in and out of the freezer to simulate winter conditions) and don't know for sure if this helps. But I've had the best success by soaking the seeds in a cup of water for a day or two, then putting them on a damp paper towel and into a loosely closed zip bag on the top of the refrigerator (for warmth) for a few days. By then, nearly every seed has a tiny sprout started. When our daytime temperatures drop to the 70s, I plant these under about 1/4 inch of fertile garden soil, and keep them moist… They all seem to grow. Spinach is one plant which will actually continue to grow all winter here, and I usually have a huge harvest during early spring when their growth accelerates. I've already picked a few leaves to use fresh - takes a lot of spinach to make a serving of cooked greens.
BEETS - Some of my chioggia
SQUASH - One butternut squash is about 6" long, but I might not get more than that, due to my late planting and battles with insects. But my friend Susan was kind enough to share her harvest, so I won't go without!
CARROTS - The first bed of fall carrots I planted from seeds only grew one seedling. I'll blame it on bad seeds. So I've replanted a bed this month, with seeds that have grown well for me previously. I mulch the bed so the seeds stay moist since they are slow to germinate. I used old growth from my daylily bed as a mulch, so if this planting is not successful I'll be suspicious that the mulch was a problem, hindering growth.
CASABA - I only got one melon off this plant so I probably will not grow it again. The fruit was very tasty, perhaps would have been a bit sweeter if left on the vine longer.
MUMS - The pre-July cuttings have grown and flowered profusely, and I planted some elsewhere around the house. Most of those in the veggie garden I've cut for arrangements I bring when visiting friends. I'll move the rest of the plants early next spring, to permanent flower beds.
CALENDULA - This edible flower reseeded and it's growing strong. I didn't think it was a cool weather crop, but I've moved the volunteers into a bed and look forward to seeing how long they keep growing.
EGGPLANT - So delicious! Still getting a steady harvest to cook myself and share with friends too.
BASIL - The Thai basil will last until a freeze. It's purple flowers are lovely in my flower arrangements and the flavor of the leaves is very strong and delicious. I'll grow this again next year.
FENNEL - Reseeded itself and going strong. This plant should survive the winter here, as it did with two snowstorms last year.
CILANTRO - I struggled for several summers trying to grow cilantro and keep it from flowering. Then I discovered that some which had gone to seed began to grow again in October and survived all winter, without going to flower. So now I purposely plant it only in the fall. Just disappointed I don't have it fresh when tomatoes are ripening for salsa, but there are loads of other recipes for enjoying it.
CORN SALAD "MACHE" - This is a macro green for salads, and I tried sowing seeds for the first time. So far no sign of life.
JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES - I thought these were best dug after November, but my friend Judy was trying to move some in her gardens and discovered the tubers had formed already. So I dug up under one renegade stem I wanted to remove, and have been enjoying the handful of "chokes" I dug.

So if you live below the Mason-Dixon line and north of Florida and you've dug up your garden, go out and sow some spinach seeds for a bonus harvest with very little effort.