Ah fall, the time where leaves change colors, the weather cools and we take out all of the tasty productive crops in favor of the winter ones. We go from bright colored peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and squashes to green cabbages. Since our garden is first and foremost a display garden, we have started using more uncommon heirlooms to our advantage to diversify our fall and winter color. We now plant purple broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, as well as red, orange, yellow and purple carrots. We also have several textured varieties of kale and colorful stemmed rainbow Swiss chard.
While the fall and winter kitchen garden may provide less of the vegetables we know and love, the featured vegetables are the traditional English fare. The colonists would probably be delighted by the fall vegetable change since they were untrusting and slow to accept many of our summer favorites. Our fall and winter kitchen menus tend to be much easier to create since we have many more recipes and cookbooks featuring the cabbage family than the tomato family.
Fall in the kitchen garden is interesting also in that it mirrors the family focus in many of our holiday traditions. Cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, turnips, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, collards and radish are all part of the Brassicaceae family. Swiss chard and beets are actually the same plant species (Beta vulgaris) where plant breeders picked different traits for each plant — and yes, that does mean you can save your grocery money and eat the beet greens just like Swiss chard.
Most of the kitchen garden has been planted with fall and winter vegetables but several of our larger beds are being cover cropped. We use cover crops in the fall and winter to suppress weeds, build our soil and fix nitrogen from the air into our soil. We also try to choose cover crops, like clover, that will provide pollen for our bees when other flowers are not blooming profusely.
Many of our northern visitors have asked in the last few weeks, “Why are you still planting?” Our climate in New Bern typically allows us to have vegetables the whole year long. I say ‘typically’ since the last two winters we have had snow and ice resulting in a fall and early spring planting that were not particularly successful for cabbage or cauliflower. So here’s hoping for a mild winter with no snow!
Hadley Cheris, Gardener