Berkshire food gardening is a bit of a game to see how you can outsmart the seasons. If you aren’t completely exhausted from canning, drying or puréeing tomatoes, you could start some more garden vegetables and herbs even though it’s September. It’s also time to bring in the pots of patio citrus trees or herbs for overwintering.
Leafy greens start quickly in warm soils and you can keep them growing through frosts if you arrange a little protection.
Using flexible stems of red-twig dogwood or forsythia, you can form arches over the rows. Also flexible wire forms can be used. When temperatures start falling and frost threatens, you can lay spun polyester fabric or light cotton sheets over these hoops as protection. Just use landscape cloth staples/stakes to hold cloth against frame where it goes into the soil. This is easy to pull back to access your greens, and then return to position.
- Lettuce: Thin the plants when the leaves are big enough for salad so you don’t feel as guilty but let some grow on into large heads. Only cut the outer leaves and you’ll have a growing core to provide leaf lettuce for daily salads.
- Kale: Protect from chipmunks, rabbits and groundhogs, but frost actually makes kale sweeter!
- Spinach: Treat it like a salad green and you’ll enjoy the different texture and vitamins.
- Broccoli rabe: Grows quickly—steam with some pasta and flavor with pesto and smoked trout.
- Arugula or other mustard greens: More fast growers to spice up fall meals. Try roasted squash with arugula, nuts and dried cranberries.
Start seeds of annual herbs, like basil or cilantro, in pots for indoors. Grow in bright, warm southern light and snip fresh herbs well into winter.
AROMATICS FOR 200
You won’t put yourself in Jeopardy but this herb you start in the garden in September.
The question: What is garlic?
Pick up two to four to 10 bulbs of garlic. (Can you ever have too much?) You will break these apart into their individual cloves right before planting. Each bulb will have six to 10 cloves. Each clove will form a new bulb by next August. So anticipate your garlic needs and get planting! Garlic, like others in the onion family, grows best with consistent and regular watering, bright sunshine and loose soil.
- A two foot by two foot area will hold 16 plants.
- Till the garden area well, about eight inches deep, so it will drain.
- Scrape and reserve about two inches of topsoil to the side or in a wheelbarrow.
- Smooth the planting area and space garlic cloves six inches apart in each direction.
- Set each clove with the root end down and pointed end up.
- When you see the cloves are evenly spaced, cover with the reserved soil, about two inches deep.
- Next, cover with six inches of mulch and let the cloves rest until spring.
- Seasonal moisture should be all they need until actively growing next spring.
- After snowmelt, you will see the green tops of garlic emerging from the mulch.
IN THE FUTURE
By July you’ll see a stem begin to wind its way out of each plant’s center. This is the flower or “garlic scape.” For best results, you should cut the scape back about halfway down into the center of the plant. The fairly mild scape can be chopped and used like a garlic clove to flavor oils and pesto. Removing it from the plant encourages growth of a larger bulb.
Continue to keep weeds out and water in.
It will be time to harvest when about three leaves have turned dry and brown. Use a spade or garden fork to gently lift the plant out of the soil. Shake off the dirt and spread in a single layer in a dry, ventilated area.
After a couple weeks you can rub off the extra soil, trim the leaves and keep in an onion bag. Store the cured garlic in a cool, dry location— a cellar entry or other spot not too far from the kitchen is good. In the meantime, continue to pick fall squash, Brussels sprouts and leafy greens. But, this garden game is against time and the vagaries of weather so watch the forecasts for frost warnings.
More of the game is keeping what you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
If you need some help, Ward’s staff will happily help you diagnose and solve any of your fall gardening issues! Send an email to info@ wardsnursery.com or call 413-528-0166.
Jodi Cahillane is coordinator for advertising and publicity at Ward’s Nursery & Garden Center in Great Barrington. A member of the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association, she frequently leads classes on many garden topics. WardsNursery.com
AH, THE SWEET SMELL OF GARLIC!
How do you remove that sweet smell from your hands when you’re done?
Turn on the cold water at your kitchen sink. If your faucet is stainless steel, simply wet the hands that have come in contact with garlic oil, rub fingers on the faucet stem and the oil scent will be gone. No stainless faucet? Carefully rub fingers on the side of a stainless knife under running water, taking care not to cut yourself.
This will also work well with hands that have come in contact with onions and hot peppers.