Back to the Future

Time to jump into the future, again. It’s autumn of this year and tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other summer delicacies are on the wane. Does the vegetable garden appear melancholy and forlorn? No! It’s lush with savory greens that thrive in that cool, moist weather to come, vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, turnips, lettuce, and endive. (Right now I hunker more for tomatoes and peppers than cabbages and turnips but nippy temperatures and shorter days will, I know from experience, bring on the appeal of autumn vegetables.)
Planning and planting need to take place right now in order to realize my autumnal vision. First on the agenda will be sowing seeds of cabbage and broccoli, in early June, not right out in the garden but in seed flats from which, after about a week they’ll be pricked out into individual cells in plastic trays. A little more

than a month after that, the plants will be ready for their permanent home in the garden. That might be where early bush beans or summer squashes had been sown, harvested, and cleared out of the way. The point is that autumn’s broccoli and cabbage plants, although sown in early June, need not take up space in the garden until late in July.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, information on frost dates, both the last spring frost  and the first autumn frost dates — can be gleaned by choosing a state from the website and then finding weather data for a nearby location. That nearby location for me is Poughkeepsie, NY, for which there is a 50% chance of the temperature dropping to 32°F on October 9th.
I figure when to plant broccoli and cabbage by counting back the number of days these plants need to reach maturity from the average date for the first killing frost. And then I add more days because I don’t want to necessarily wait until that first frost date before I can start harvest.
Not that 32°F. would spell the death knell for broccoli and company. But growth slows dramatically as weather cools and days grow shorter so I like to have my plants pretty much fully grown and ready for harvest before the first frost date. With cooler temperatures, vegetables can sit out in the garden patiently awaiting harvest in good condition. (In warmer regions of the country, vegetable plants will actually grow through winter, making autumn a fine time to sow peas or set out cabbage transplants.)
Other vegetables, with different numbers of days needed to reach maturity, need sowing on various dates through summer. Here’s the planting schedule for my zone 5 autumn garden having an early October first frost date (as well as additional planting dates for vegetables of summer); where frost dates occur earlier, push sowing and planting dates the same amount of time earlier, and vice versa for regions with later frost dates:
•June 1: sow broccoli and cabbage in seed flats; sow small amount of lettuce and cilantro in seed flats or in garden;
•June 7: 3rd sowing of corn and 2nd sowing of bush beans in garden;
•June 14: 2nd sowing of cucumbers in seed flats; sow small amount of lettuce and cilantro in seed flats or in garden;
•June 21: 4th sowing of sweet corn in garden; 2nd sowing of summer squash out in the garden; sow small amount of lettuce and cilantro in seed flats or in garden;
•July 1: sow endive and parsley in seed flats; 3rd sowing of beans in garden;
•July 15: sow beets, chard, turnips, kale, and winter radishes in garden; sow Napa-type Chinese cabbage in seed flats;
•August 1 – September 1: multiple sowings of spinach, small radish varieties, mâche, arugula, mustard greens, and pac choi type Chinese cabbage in garden (early sowing will likely bolt but later sowings will press on late into autumn); keep planting lettuce.
All plants growing in seed flats are transplanted out to the garden as soon as they begin to grow too big for the flats, which is typically four to six weeks after seeds are sown.
Multiple plantings of bush beans and cucumbers are ways to keep ahead of bean beetles (yellow, with dark spots) on the beans and striped cucumber beetles (yellow, with dark stripes) on the cukes. It takes awhile for new plantings to get attacked, and that attack is mitigated by whisking the old plants, with potential attackers still feasting, out of the garden to the innards of the compost pile. Multiple plantings also help with summer squashes’ squash vine borers, evident from wilting leaves and a sawdust-like frass that oozes out of stem, although I’m usually glad to be rescued from excess-squash-syndrome by the time the borers take plants down.
The above schedule omits a few vegetables. Carrots: I don’t grow them, but if you do, July 15th is the date to plant them around here. Some people have luck with autumn peas. I don’t because first it’s too hot for them and then it’s too cold for them. Still, if you want to take a chance, sow them August 1st.
And what about rutabaga, parsnip, and kohlrabi? All I can say is, “Yuk!”

Beans, Beans, . . .

Lima beans are one of those things, like artichokes, okra, and dark beer, that people either love or hate. I love them. The problem is that this far north, summer temperatures usually hover below those in which lima bean plants thrive, at least those best-tasting varieties of lima having large seeds and dry, sweetish flesh something like chestnuts.
A few years ago, I grew the variety Jackson Wonder, which was billed as a “prolific, cold-hardy heirloom with bright nutty flavor.” It was cold-hardy and prolific, and it is an heirloom dating back to 1888, but the flavor was blah.
A long, long time ago, I grew what might be the best-tasting of all lima beans, a pole variety named Dr. Martin. Dr. Martin’s demand for warm summers resulted in a harvest that was too paltry to justify space for those long vines again.
The earth has warmed in the quarter century since I grew Dr. Martin. The growing season is longer and summer temperatures are hotter. So this spring I thought it was time again to try growing some big, fat, flavorful lima beans. King of the Garden was the variety at hand, a variety perhaps as good as Dr. Martin. I started the seed in spring in pots indoors and planted out the seedlings, 2 per bamboo pole with 3 poles tied at their tops to form a teepee, a the end of May, by which time hot weather had worked its way into both air and soil.
King of the Garden plants grew, and grew, and grew. And flowered, and grew, and grew. And occasionally, I noticed a little, very little, pod beginning to develop. But no flowers or mini-pods grew to become large pods filled with big, fat, flavorful lima beans.
Lima beans are a finicky lot. Not only do they shiver in cool weather; they also underperform in weather that’s too hot. Like the hot weather we had, at times, this summer. More recent, cooler nights should improve pod set. That is, unless something else is the roadblock to pod production. That “something else” could be stinkbugs. Stinkbugs and stinkbug problems are moving north from their more traditional southern haunts. There were plenty this summer. The buggers enjoy limas.
Moving over to another bean, green beans, my third and last planting of which is now being feasted upon by Mexican bean beetles. (They also feed on the limas, but not enough to cause significant damage.) Mexican bean beetles are not something new that’s become more problematic with warmer summers and winters; they’ve been showing up in my garden for decades although few other gardeners with whom I speak seem to have problems with them.
Despite the beetles, I harvest plenty of green beans; my main beef with the beetles is that they keep me from being able to grow pole green beans. Pole beans, unlike bush beans, which get sequentially planted and then pulled out after a few weeks of harvest, are a long season crop planted in late spring to grow and bear until frost. That long season of growth offers a 24/7 dinner to bean beetles. Growing only bush beans restricts my choice of varieties and makes growing and harvesting the beans, for fresh eating and for freezing, more frantic.
This year, I tried to check bean beetle infestations with weekly sprays of neem, a relatively nontoxic pesticide derived from the Indian neem tree. It was ineffective. Another possibility is to elicit the help of a stinkbug! No, not any old stinkbug but one known as the spined soldier beetle, a predator a many plant pests. These bugs can be purchased as such or pheromone attractants can be purchased to attract them to the garden. I tried the traps many years ago to no good effect. Perhaps it’s time to import the bugs themselves.
One bean that seems to be pretty much ignored by bean beetles and stinkbugs, and any other pest, is soybean, which I harvest green as edamame. The edamame harvest this season has, as usual, been excellent. I grow the variety Shirofumi, both for its flavor and good yields.
Edamame usually flower and ripen pods in response to daylength, and Shirofumi edamame harvest ends in early August. Then, I usually pull the plants to make space for late plantings of cabbages, radishes, lettuce, and other cool weather vegetables. This year, the space was not needed so I decided to leave the plants in place.
Soybeans, along with green beans, lima beans, and other beans, are legumes, which are plants that, with the help of symbiotic bacteria in their roots, can use nitrogen from the air as food. Much of that nitrogen becomes the protein in the soybean seeds; the rest is in the leaves, stems, and roots. Leaving my soybean plants in place is helping to enrich the soil with nitrogen, from old roots that slough off. The rest of the plants, once pulled, go into the compost pile to provide nitrogen there and, as the finished compost is spread, subsequently in the garden. My lima bean plants, even if they remain podless, provide those same benefits. The same goes for my green bean plants, from which I’ll get a little extra nitrogen from all the Mexcan bean beetles on their leaves.
Do you want to grow fruit but think you don’t have room? I’ll be giving a workshop “Fruit for Small Gardens,” covering the fruits and growing techniques needed to reap delectable rewards from spaces as small as a balcony to as “large” as a small suburban yard. The venue is Stone Barns inn Pocantico Hills, NY on September 22nd from 1-3 pm. For more information, see