Well the Chimney Swifts are beginning to swirl in the September sky, the evenings have a bite that feels rather welcome, and I can't help but feel like summer is getting on. One wouldn't know it, with temperatures climbing back into the 90's (!), but we all know that Fall and Winter will be ours soon enough. Though it is far too late in the season for planting most vegetables, there are a handful of reliable and quick to mature vegetables that I am still planting in my garden and in my clients' gardens!! If you are quick about it, you too can still squeeze a little more out of your garden this season.
But don't delay! With each day and week that passes we lose a little more potential to grow anything to maturity. As Summer stretches into Fall, lower temperatures and decreasing sunlight and day length all add up to slower and slower vegetative growth. In fact, from October-February, plant growth all but grinds to a halt. Early establishment of cold-hardy vegetables heading into this time is key to being able to harvest food from your garden into the Fall and Winter. The quickest maturing vegetables, planted even as late as mid-September, can still grow to full maturity!
A selection of (the most reliable, lovable, and quick-to-mature) vegetables for a September planting:
Though not the most cold-hardy vegetable, lettuce is fast growing and is great for a September planting and will even withstand light frost. I suggest planting from starts, rather than from seeds, to ensure that lettuce heads will mature before our "average" first frost date of November 15th. Choose romaine types rather than more tender butter or leaf lettuces. And if you see that sub-freezing temperatures are coming before you are ready to harvest, cover your plants with insulative row covering to protect from frost!
Spinach, despite it's relatively tender leaves, is extremely cold tolerant, and can withstand temperatures into the low teens! Spinach is fairly quick to mature and can be picked over several months in the Fall and Winter for an ongoing harvest. Spinach is generally best and happiest when grown from seed but can also be transplanted from starts. This late in the season, growing starts will assure that spinach can grow to maturity before slow Fall and Winter growing conditions. My favorite varieties for winter production are the aptly named "Giant Winter" and "Renegade"
Like all root vegetables, radishes should be grown from seeds, not from starts. Radishes are the very quickest to mature root vegetables and have serious cold hardiness making them an ideal choice for September planting. Choose radishes that mature in "30 days" or less (though they will take longer because of September temperatures and day length), and not the longer to mature "Black Spanish" or "Watermelon" types, which should be sown in mid-late August. Radishes sown in September can be harvested for months and will withstand temperatures into the high teens. Even after harvest, they will store in your refrigerator for up to 2 months depending on the variety/type
Turnips are slightly slower to mature than radishes, but are still relatively quick compared to other root vegetables like carrots and parsnips. The succulent, sweet, and bone-white "Hakurei" variety is a favorite of mine and is among the quickest turnips to mature. Cold night time temperatures concentrate sugars in turnips and many other Fall/Winter vegetables. Turnips will tolerate temperatures into the low 20's, and some varieties, like "Purple Top" can be stored for months even after harvesting!
Looking for a delicate winter salad or the perfect fresh topping for your rustic pizza? Nothing is quite like arugula when it comes to an easy to grow and versatile winter green. Where Kale, Collards and Cabbages are stewed, sauteed, braised, and roasted away with so many other winter roots, arugula is almost like a breath of summer in December. Arugula is easily grown from seeds or from starts and will tolerate temperatures lower than most Portland Winters can throw at it. Even in mid-September, arugula planted from seed will typically be ready for a Halloween harvest and can be picked off of for a couple of months! My favorite variety for both Summer and Winter is "Astro." If you like a spicier arugula consider "Sylvetta," a wild slower growing version of the same.
So... If you were lamenting the end of your summer garden, take solace and take heart in your new found knowledge. It ain't over! Hurry along and get some of these wonderful, quick, and easy-to-grow vegetables in the ground immediately! You won't be sorry when your December kitchen is brimming with your outstanding and outlandish ongoing organic opulence!
Until next time, Happy Growing!
- Ian Wilson
Owner and Founder, Portland Edible Gardens, LLC