The Late October Kitchen Garden

I’ve been visiting family and friends in New York and New England for the past three weeks and in my absence the kitchen garden has settled into its fall state. The cover crop of Austrian field peas that I planted before I left in all the beds that held summer vegetables has germinated, blanketing the dark soil with small green leaves.  The winter crops of roots, leeks, hardy greens and brassicas, all lush from October rains, fill other beds with their foliage and promise many tasty meals as the days shorten and temperatures drop.

The rounded bulbs of celery root, rutabagas, turnips and beets are just visible under their still vigorous stems while the parsnips and carrots, marked by their feathery tops, wait beneath the soil line. Blue-green spears rise and bend above white shafts of leeks. I’ll add a final layer of mulch to these roots and leeks when the first serious cold spell is forecast and they’ll last us through the winter.

Escarole, chard, mustard, mache and several plantings of arugula are ready for harvest and use as fall and winter sautés or salads.  I’ll soon put hoop houses, ends open, over these cold-hardy greens to shelter them from too much rain.

And the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage I’d started in flats in mid-July and set out in mid-August have formed heads, tight jade-green broccoli flowers, creamy white cauliflower curds, ruby-colored red and crinkly light-green Savoy cabbages.  I planted only three or four of each and plan to harvest and cook them before the real cold comes and I turn to their hardier cousins Brussels sprouts and kale for the rest of the winter.

Against these many shapes and shades of green the gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia gloriosa) are still blooming, their yellow, rust and burgundy shades adding rich tones of fall color to the kitchen garden.  It won’t be long before a hard frost blackens these blooms but the same frost will bring out the deep sweetness of these fall and winter vegetables, a fair trade I think.

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