What would a garden be without September? For most of us, there is still enough warmth in the air to gather the last of the tomatoes, let zucchini and cucumbers continue to ripen on the vine, and plant late fall and winter crops. Flowers take on a vibrance that is sometimes missed in the heart of summer and, while I always feel an urgency to harvest and preserve all that I can from the garden, it's with a contented pace. There's room to breathe, a myriad of colors and fragrances to soak in, and, with the heat of July long past, it's easy to be outside and watch summer begin to turn to fall.
So how do you squeeze the most out of your September garden? There's a long list of chores to cross off the list, such as mulching beds, dividing perennials, and prepping spring flowering bulbs. There's also harvesting to consider, planting to do, and the best of summer eating at hand. Where do you start? Here are a handful of my September garden must-dos:
Single stems or bouquets, bring the outside in with fresh cut flowers. I let some go to seed, leave others to give shape and intensity to the garden, and bring the rest indoors. Bud vases and Mason jars are filled whenever possible. It's a celebration of sorts and a wonderful reminder of the season -- an attempt to make every minute count.
There are the usual suspects to collect and eat from garden-to-table, edibles like peppers, basil, tomatoes and summer squash. You also can make the most of your summer squash by eating up the last of their flowers. There's not enough time for them to set fruit so late in the season, so it's a perfect opportunity to try adding squash blossoms to your favorite recipes. Add to pizza, quesadillas, and omelets, or stuff and fry them lightly. They pair well with flavors like cumin, coriander, cilantro, tomatillos, peppers, and parsley. If you've never cooked with them, I suggest you start by adding them to simple dishes so you can begin to understand their flavor and texture and branch out from there.
If you're faced with more zucchini than you know what to do with, or you're tired of eating green beans, consider freezing, dehydrating, or canning your harvest. I tend to grow more green beans than I can eat, in part because my garden is small and I can optimize garden space with climbing plants like pole beans. Spiced and dehydrated beans make fabulous veggies chips. Another favorite is spicy pickled green beans.
September is also a perfect time to collect and save seeds for the following season. Saving and planting seeds from one season to the next allows your annuals to slowly adapt to the particular microclimate of your garden, increasing your chances for success year after year. It also allows you to take an active role in the health of your garden by selectively harvesting from the plants that are thriving or have the color or flavors you prefer.
Bring a few jars or bags with you when you visit the garden so you're ready when you're seeds are ready. Collect seeds individually or clip off the entire flowering head or drying fruit, place in a container and process them for storage at a later date.
Summer may be coming to a close but there is still planting to be done, even in the coldest of climates. If you live in a mild climate, seeds sown now will grow slowly through winter and make for an early spring harvest. In colder climates, crops can be protected with row covers, mulch, or even a blanket of snow and will be ready to continue growing as soon as soil temperatures warm.
The flavor of many edibles improves because they overwinter. The chilling temperatures of winter help concentrate sugars, which is why spring carrots are so absolutely amazing, and dark, leafy greens are in their prime come March and April.
Snap Peas and Broad Beans
If your climate is mild or you have a greenhouse, plant snap peas. If you have neither, grow them anyway. Start them in a flat or large tray and sow them close together. If you live in a mild climate (such as USDA zone 10) and you're planting some out, wait until their true leaves develop and plant more than you think you should -- you won't regret it. If you live in a cooler climate, bring your flat inside when temperatures dip below freezing and harvest the shoots when they're 3-6 inches tall and add them to salads, rice bowls, or sandwiches.
Sow broad beans as a cover crop. They work best as a cover crop if you cut them back before flowering. Again, if you're in a mild climate and you let them grow through winter, use the tips and flowers in salads and other dishes. Cut back the stalks and remaining leaves and add them to compost when you're ready to plant spring veggies.
Greens such as kale, mache, mesclun mix, chard, mustards, and collards all do well in winter. In the coldest of climates, grow under a cold frame in a green house. Grow them as baby greens, microgreens, or crops to mature and enjoy through winter and into early spring depending on your climate. Plant successionally until three weeks before your first average frost, or grow microgreens indoors to lengthen your harvest.
Beets and Carrots
When planted in warm soils, root crops such as beets and carrots get a head start on spring and have the added benefit of cold winter months to develop flavor. Look for varieties suited to your region and taste.
Brassicas or Cole Crops
Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi are all included in this group. Try one or a few depending on the amount of space you have to work with. While these plants tend to need more room and are generally long to mature, it's worth the wait.
I can't imagine a garden without onions, and onion sets are by far the easiest and most rewarding way to grow them. Tuck these precious, baby onion bulbs in between other plants or along with cover crops. Harvest when young, later in fall, or let them mature through winter.
Wait to plant until after the first frost or three weeks before the ground freezes. If you're in a warm climate, wait until later in fall to plant. In cold climates, the goal is for roots to develop before the ground freezes and for leaf tips not to break ground before winter. Some varieties need a cold period to trigger growth, so if you're in a climate that doesn't freeze, check the growing requirements of available varieties before planting. I like to soak garlic cloves in a dilution of liquid seaweed overnight before planting out.