Wendy Weiner, aka the Front Yard Farmer, in a garden she maintains in Rumson. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)
By JIM WILLIS
Think of eating from a Jersey garden, and tomatoes, squash and eggplant all come to mind. And for good reason, too. Gardening is almost always synonymous with our abundant summer harvests.
But one of the biggest advantages we here on the Green have over other regions isn’t the high heat of our summer growing season, but the length of our fall growing season.
“Our area has one of the greatest climates for growing fall crops, and that is because it’s such a long season.” says Wendy Weiner, of the Front Yard Farmer. “We get a very long fall growing season. Even in New York state, it’s much shorter.”
Greens like kale, Swiss chard and spinach are mainstays of a fall and winter garden, says Weiner. As are root crops such as beets and carrots, as well as the hardier herbs like dill, parsley and cilantro.
But if you hope to nosh on kale or chard after October, or use some fresh parsley in your Thanksgiving stuffing, you need to get your butt in gear right now.
Weiner was at work recently on a client’s front yard garden in Rumson when redbankgreen caught up with her to get some tips on taking advantage of the fall growing season.
Weiner says you want to get your seeds in now, so that they’ve got as much growth as possible before the daylight runs out. “Your limitation of a fall garden is daylight,” she says. “By late November, nothing new is going to grow – you’re just maintaing the growth you already have. In other words, it’s like having an outside refrigerator.”
As long as you make some accommodations to cover the greens once really cold weather comes, you can keep eating from the backyard refrigerator well into the winter. Weiner says she’s been able to keep harvesting into January.
“This is my favorite season to garden in,” says Weiner. “Instead of going from cool to warm, we’re going from warm to cool, and that’s the favorite season for the greens – they prefer it.”
She adds that the greens from your backyard are better for “all the obvious reasons — anything that you can grow in your backyard is going to be far more nutritious than what you’re going to get in the store.” And she cautions that while kale is enjoying a surge in popularity right now, most kale bought in the stores is sprayed heavily with pesticides.
If you stared with envy across the fence into your neighbors’ backyard bounty all summer wishing you had a garden of your own, you don’t have to wait until next spring to put one in.
“Right now is a great, great time to start a garden,” says Weiner, whose business is aimed at helping novices get started. “Build a raised bed, throw some lettuce seeds, arugula, kale, collards, Swiss chard. Just throw seeds. It’s going to come up. And you’ll be eating by mid- to late October.”
“Even if you think you’ve missed the boat, put the seeds in anyway. I’ve had times when I thought I missed the whole thing, and then in the spring I’ve got greens – early, early season greens for things you planted in the fall. “
Weiner has a few other tips for the fall gardener:
- A great mulch for your fall/winter garden is to rake fallen leaves up and run them over with a mower and tuck them in around the greens. Just as the leaves are falling is when the greens are going to need the extra insulation.
- You can test any seeds left over from your spring planting by putting them in a ziplock bag on a wet paper towel; they should sprout within a couple of days.
- The PVC hoop house is a very inexpensive way to extend your harvesting into the winter by protecting your vegetables. Weiner adds that you can paint a few jugs black, fill them with water and tuck them under the hoop house. They’ll abosrb the heat during the day and keep the beds warm at night.