Autumn Planting

It’s planting season! 

And here you thought it was harvest, right? You’d be forgiven for thinking that. There is very little talk about autumn planting. For that matter, there’s also very little talk of spring harvests. But both are integral to having a food supply all year long. If you don’t have a harvest of one variety or another right now, you don’t eat today. If you aren’t planting for the next harvest, you won’t eat tomorrow. And there are plenty of plants that don’t like to grow in the traditional growing season. Some because they are being grown far outside their native habitat — like wheat grown in a cool, damp climate — and some because they prefer to work hard at gathering in enough light to photosynthesize rather than working hard at competing with other plants for light, moisture and nutrients — which is the case for nearly all spring vegetables and many root crops.

I am rather uncertain about where this notion of “plant in spring, harvest in fall” came from. It sort of matches the rhythm of some grains, but not those grown in Europe where the idea seems to be most firmly rooted. Perhaps it is not an old or grounded idea at all, but merely made up by Victorian sentiment. No actual farmer I know talks of one growing season. There is a constant flow of activity on most farms that grow food (as opposed to commodities). As long as the soil is accessible and workable, one crop comes out and another goes in all year long. There are slow downs. Not much of anything happens but weed and bug patrol in the heat of summer. And the days with less than 10 hours of sunlight will produce no growth on any plant I know of. But most plants will simply go dormant, waiting for the return of the light, as long as moisture, nutrient, and temperature requirements are met. Wheat, itself — that quintessential symbol of harvest — is planted in autumn as often as spring. And both spring and winter wheat varieties will be harvested around Midsummer, not in the fall. So this thing about autumn being only for harvest is maybe not a thing.

In any case this is a good week to plant for fall. In my family, we always started peas, roots, cold-hardy greens, and many herbs around the middle of August. My grandfather claimed that peas planted on the Feast of Assumption would give you fresh peas until the hard frost. (Which never came in his Biloxi garden.) For the first ten years of my life, I thought that the “assumption” in question had something to do with gardening. I still rather act like that is true. It is time to plant peas on the Sunday closest to August 15. Sometimes I make adjustments based on the moon phase, but this is just a personal proclivity. Has no effect on the peas, but it keeps me in garden rhythm. And gives me an excuse to hold off if Assumption Sunday is too packed with other stuff on the to-do list. Or if the weather is just not cooperating.

Today, the weather is cooperating in Vermont. I hope it’s the same for you, but given this morning’s weather map that’s a crapshoot. Here it is cool and foggy, but the soil is still very warm after the ridiculous heat wave that we’ve endured. Elsewhere there is still fire and flood and drought and mayhem. Maybe in your pocket of elsewhere things are good enough though. Maps are generally vague. By design.

So here is what goes in the ground today in no particular order:

a good lettuce mix that includes arugula, mustards, & cold-tolerant oak-leaf lettuce
radishes, all sorts, but especially French Breakfast
rutabaga & other turnips
kale & a few other cabbages
carrots, some for fall and Mokum for overwintering
short-season bush beans for haricot verts
sweet peas & stocks for overwintering to have early spring cut flowers

I also sometimes seed summer savory, chervil, chives, parsley, basil, and chiles in containers for indoor growing. I won’t be doing that this year because I haven’t bought the grow lights yet — though there is a south facing window in the basement with a fluorescent light fixture over the space that could easily take LED grow bulbs when my budget allows. I might eventually consider container tomatoes down there. I’ll definitely be buying more scented geraniums and lavender. And I’m thinking about ways to get rosemary to grow in those conditions. Because otherwise, rosemary is a rather disappointing annual up here in the Green Mountains. Of course, if I figure that out, I might also think about dwarf citrus. It would be very useful in my kitchen. I can and do make-do without lemons, but I don’t want to. And this is a low-energy way to keep them in my world.

So that is my work for today, along with laundry, stew-making, and trying to get the weeds under control. Also… there are more raspberries to harvest. And the apples are turning red. And the summer squash is taking over the veg patch. 

Planting and harvest. All in one day.

©Elizabeth Anker 2021