In southeastern Virginia, we’re lucky to have a long growing season, and we actually have two cool growing seasons: in the spring and again in the fall. Since the average date of the first frost is November 21 (my honey’s birthday – easy to remember!), we can plant from seed now and harvest into November. We will actually harvest some hardy greens and root vegetables next spring.
Last week, I went to a lecture by Portsmouth Master Gardener Fred Hersey at the Churchland Library in Portsmouth. Here are my notes from that lecture, embellished with a few tips of my own; we don’t eat cooking greens like collards and mustard greens, so I didn’t take notes on those.
Again, we have two goals for the fall garden:
- Eat during the fall – carrots, parsnips, green beans, peas, salad and other greens
- Grow through the winter – greens, spinach, arugula, garlic, onions
Check seed packages for for their maturity date and count backwards from first frost. There are now about 60 days left, so bush snap beans, peas, etc., that will mature in less than 60 days can be planted now.
If we don’t get several days in a row of hard frost, we can plant these crops and they will thrive through the winter: greens like Swiss chard, lettuce and arugula and root crops like carrots, parsnips, garlic and onions.
Root crops need loose, well-drained soil so they can grow, and you can leave them in the ground until you want to use them. If you need to get them out of the ground, you can put them in a container of sand, root end down, for storage.
Once you decide what to grow, the next step is to prepare the soil for planting and add nutrients. It’s ideal to have a soil test done by Virginia Tech that will tell you what the pH is and the levels of particular nutrients in your soil, like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus; you can get a quick test done at some garden centers which will only tell you the pH. If you can’t do that in time, it’s okay; just make sure you fertilize properly. The Virginia Tech test costs $10 for in-state testing; you can get a test kit and instructions at any Virginia Cooperative Extension office.
Moisten soil the day before planting and rake or till it up, depending on how large your space is. Mushroom compost is a good choice for fertilizer. You can buy it from Norfolk County Feed & Seed and probably other garden centers. If you use something other than compost for fertilizing, look for something with a low first number (nitrogen) for fruiting plants like beans and peas, since nitrogen increases foliage growth and can inhibit fruiting. Use a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content for leafy vegetables like salad greens, collards, etc.
Fertilize when planting, then side-dress about three weeks later, and then once a month. Root crops in particular are heavy feeders, so they will need nutrients during the growing season. Plant seeds deeper than you would in the spring; the soil is already warm. You can also get a head start by buying transplants from a garden center.
If you have insect problems, try an organic insect control like hot pepper spray or insecticidal soap. Using a general insecticide like Sevin will harm pollinators like bees and butterflies and other beneficial insects like ladybugs.
A few notes specific to garlic:
- Don’t fertilizer after May 15, because you will harvest them in June
- Can cut scapes (flower stalks) off when they’re 10 inches long or have a loop in them; cut up and add to skillet dishes or soups/stews
- Don’t pull – you don’t want the cloves to come apart. Dig them out.
- Don’t wash garlic heads (or onions); skins will pull off easily once they’re cured/dried. Set on a basket, for air circulation, out of the sun for a month to cure
So let’s get gardening! It’s easier than you think.
This is one of my favorite summer dishes – maque choux. It’s a little bit sweet, from the corn, and a little bit spicy, from jalapeno, and crunchy, from lightly sauteed fresh vegetables. So yummy and so pretty with all the colors of summer.
I took this photo a few years ago while on a walk with Dan through the neighborhood. If you look very closely, you’ll see a couple of Adirondack chairs on the pier. Looks like a great place to sit and have a drink while watching the sunset.
Last weekend, we had a gorgeous spring day – sunny with temps in the low 60s. Perfect for getting out in the garden and planting some veggies.
We use a lot of lettuce and love a good spring mix, so I planted a salad bowl in a terra-cotta pot. One of my gardening goals this year is to integrate beautiful ornamental plants with delicious edible plants so I can extend the time the garden looks good. So for this salad bowl, I added a few violas to the pot along with the lettuce mix. I sprinkled few pinches of seeds in the open area and will sprinkle a few more each week. This is called succession planting – I can harvest it all summer long by continuing to sprinkle in new seed and harvest the leaves when they’re ready.
The parsley wintered over in the pot and I’ve been harvesting a few leaves now and then when I need a tablespoon or two for a recipe. It’s so nice being able to just clip what I need.
So, after a bit of a hiatus, I’m back to blogging! I posted a pic of this dish on Facebook, some people asked about it, so here’s the recipe.
Dan and I both love bell peppers. I especially like the beautiful rainbow of colors available, so we buy a “stoplight” package – one each of red, orange and yellow peppers – plus at least one green pepper, almost every week. In the summer, we grow our own. That saves a lot of money! Can’t wait to get the garden going.
I also grow Thai basil in my herb garden. If you have some, use that; otherwise, regular Italian basil is a good substitute.
Thai Red Curry with Shrimp
2 tbsp. peanut oil
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced
2 cups bell peppers, any colors, seeded, halved crosswise and sliced (I used 1/2 each of red, yellow and orange peppers)
1 stalk celery, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. Thai red curry paste (I use Thai Kitchen brand)
2 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 14-oz. can light coconut milk
1/3 cup raisins
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tbsp. Thai basil leaves, coarsely chopped (optional)
3 tbsp. cilantro, chopped
3 cups jasmine rice, cooked, for serving
Sriracha hot sauce, optional, for serving
In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté a few minutes to soften. Add bell peppers, celery and garlic and stir a few more minutes. Add curry paste and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in fish sauce and sugar, then coconut milk and raisins. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer till slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.
Stir shrimp into curry and simmer till just cooked, about 2 minutes.
Remove pan from the heat and stir in basil, if using, and cilantro.
Serve over jasmine rice. Sprinkle with sriracha, if desired, and garnish with cilantro sprigs.
Makes 4 servings.