For cooks and gardeners, colder weather is something of a second spring. It is our Greens Season.
In hot summer climates there is no hope of growing crisp salads and chewy kales from June to August. And cilantro bolts while your back is turned. But as the nights grow longer and chillier, we can begin to look forward to a fall salad strategy, and order seeds, and dig, and wait.
Here are seven of our favorite autumn vegetables to grow (and eat) now:
Photography by Marie Viljoen.
Spotted Trout Lettuce
Above: Thanks to heirloom seed saving and clever breeding, lettuce is no longer just lettuce. There are dozens of cultivars from which to choose. Spotted Trout Lettuce ($3.95 for a packet of seeds from Hudson Valley Seed Library) is a charmer, with freckled pale green leaves and an open habit. Sow it every week for a succession of salads till frost.
Above: A packet of Organic Arugula Rocket Seeds is $1.89 from Botanical Interests via Amazon.
Arugula’s peppery bite might be ubiquitous in supermarket clamshells by now, but nothing beats a spicy leaf picked straight from the pot on your terrace or from the row you dug three weeks earlier. Allowing your arugula or mustard plants to bolt is rewarding, too, because their buds and flowers are as hot as their greens, and perk up mild salads.
Above: A microgreen is the immature form of any edible leaf, snipped while it has just two cotyledons or the first two true leaves to its name. Botanical Interests sells a menu of microgreen seed mixes, from Asian ($1.99 per packet of seeds) to Spicy ($2.69 per packet). These miniature leaves can be grown in windowsill trays if you are an apartment dweller, or in outdoor pots in full sun. Sow every week for repeated harvests. Collect them when their stems are about an inch long.
Above: Dwarf kale is a container gardener’s delight, providing the full kale taste and health experience packed into a small and sturdy leaf which is mature before its full-size cousins. A packet of 100 Siberian Kale seeds is $2.25 from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds.
If you plant it in full sun, you might be lucky enough to be eating your crop well into the frosty weather–I have seen the plants withstand inches of snow and become sweeter in the process.
Above: Rainbow chard may taste the same as regular chard, but its prettiness factor is so high that it can be included as a fall crop for aesthetic pleasure alone. A packet of organic Rainbow Swiss Chard seeds is $2.59 from Mountain Valley Seed Company via Amazon.
Chards and spinaches love cold nights and like kale and other cool greens can be harvested well after the first frost.
Above: A 1-ounce packet of organic Green Arrow Shell Pea seeds is $2.95 from High Mowing Seeds.
Waiver: fall-planted peas will not set pods in cold climates. Instead, the goal is gather as many bunches of tender pea shoots as possible. The tender stems and leaves are as sweet and pea-ish as the pods and are wonderful in salads, or gently steamed and dressed with soy and sesame oil. The seeds must be soaked for 12 hours before planting, and full sun is optimal for the most prolific growth. Pinch out the tender growing stems as soon as the plants are about four inches tall, and keep picking until successive frosts close your pea season.
Above: This is one bean that loves the cold. Sow favas (also known as broad beans) in late winter and in early fall. As with peas, you will not see pods form after a fall planting–the days are too short. The autumn crop is grown for the tender leaves and stems only, and these can be harvested about three weeks after planting and for a month or more beyond. The youngest silky leaves make unusual salad ingredients and are good cooked, too.
A packet of organic Windsor Fava Bean seeds is $3.50 from High Mowing Gardens.
Above: This root vegetable works while the winter world sleeps. Plant parsnips in mid-fall for February or March harvest. A packet of Turga Parsnip seeds is $2.75 from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
They can be planted straight into deep pots (about 16 inches or more). Their leaves will appear before winter, and over several months the sweet tap roots will grow fat for harvest. Pulling vegetables from your garden in the middle of winter is a bit of a party piece–plan a celebratory salad with quick-pickled beets and kale greens and apple, and invite your friends.
Above: It is ironic that the herb so closely associated with hot climates and spicy food evolved in cool Europe, where it was largely shunned. Cilantro, which gets a bad rap for bolting in a heartbeat, grows best before and after summer. Spring and autumn are the best times to sow this pungent herb. It will withstand a couple of frosts before it gives up for good.
A packet of 200 Cilantro seeds is $2 from Baker Creek.
Looking for recipes to make the most of your fall harvest? Some of Marie’s favorites are: