Northeast 9

BY WAYNE WINTERROWD / Readsboro, Vermont USDA Zone 5

TO DO IN THE GARDEN

  • Harvest bush beans, cucumbers, squash, and zucchini on an almost daily basis to encourage additional production. (Give away what you can’t use!)

  • Treat all members of the cabbage family with Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) to eliminate cabbage worms. Use Bt ‘San Jose’ strain to control potato beetles.

  • Spray tomato vines and the surrounding soil with copper sulfate on a weekly basis to discourage tomato-leaf blight. Remove and burn infected lower leaves.

  • Clear rows of spent crops, dress with compost and sow with quick-maturing or cold-tolerant crops.

Midsummer Sowing

Our vegetable garden is shrinking. It still measures 60 by 90 feet, and we haven’t given an inch back to the meadow from which it was carved. What’s causing it to shrink is greed. Every year we learn about new things to grow, new ways to cook old staples, and we develop tastes for vegetables we once thought we didn’t like. So the only way to satisfy our ever-growing appetites is to make a second sowing in midsummer, and a third just on the cusp of autumn in early September. That provides good things to eat almost until the snow flies.

In Zone 5, not all crops will develop from a midsummer sowing. Forget the “number of days to maturity” listed for any plant eaten for its seed or fruit. After the summer solstice, they are mere wishful thinking, and as the sun declines and days shorten, the time required to reach utility increases. Why leaf and root crops are best for second sowings is therefore not a difficult riddle, for obviously, any plant must make leaves and roots. Most are edible when tiny, and some are prime then. Finally, many make their best growth in short autumn days, and some are even frost resistant.

Among leafy salad crops, lettuce is preeminent. It takes about 50 days to develop a fine head, but “cutting lettuce” can be delicious in as little as 20. Mesclun, the mixed greens sold in gourmet markets, develops with equal speed. Both should be sown in a wide furrow made by pressing a flat board into tilled soil. Harvesting may begin when the greens are about five inches high, clipping (with scissors) an inch above soil level for a second cutting. Arugula, spinach, and chard may be treated the same way, as may chicory in many forms, including our current favorite, puntarelle. (See “Worth Growing,” right.)

Several leafy vegetables grown for cooking are also worth a late sowing. Broccoli rabe, a variant of the more familiar broccoli, has smaller heads and delicious leaves. Kale is the hardiest leafy vegetable, and is also among the most beautiful, with bloomy, plum-colored leaves, or tightly crisped green ones. Though it matures at around 60 days, leaves are edible within 25, and may be picked until well after Thanksgiving.

Among root vegetables, radishes are quickest, requiring only 25 days. They may be resown beginning around July 4 and at two-week intervals thereafter. Don’t neglect to plant the Japanese daikon radish, which will develop wrist-thick roots in 40 days, or the pungent black Spanish radish. Equally successful are beets, carrots, and turnips, for though their roots will be small, they will be sweeter for autumn weather dipping toward frost.

Finally, some exotic vegetables may be grown from late sowings. Claytonia, the beautiful miner’s lettuce with silver-dollar-size leaves, flourishes in cool weather, as does mache, or corn salad, so called because it thrives in European grain fields. Saint Barbara’s herb, sometimes called upland cress, is actually winter hardy, offering its pungent leaves in very earliest spring to enliven store-bought lettuce. H

WORTH GROWING

Puntarelle

Puntarelle belongs to the vast chicory tribe (Cichoriumspp.), which includes escarole, endive, Belgian endive, radicchio, and the pretty, blue-flowered roadside chicory, a garden escape. Puntarelle is grown for its succulent, crunchy stems, best harvested after a light frost. A specialty of the city of Rome in winter, the stems are pleasantly bitter, curling attractively after a soak in cold water. They should be dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped anchovies, and plenty of salt. Sources, page 67.

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