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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: Long Islanders can plant vegetables now for fall harvest

Rainbow Swiss chard can thrive well into fall

Rainbow Swiss chard can thrive well into fall when planted now in the heat of summer. Photo Credit: Jessica Damiano

Most gardeners consider spring prime planting time, spending countless hours in April and May preparing and amending the soil, constructing raised beds, hauling mulch and compost, and planting delicate vegetable seedlings. August typically is a time to reap what’s been sown, with fruit and vegetable harvests taking center stage, and the garden put to bed soon after. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can enjoy a second harvest this year by planting cool-season vegetables now. Long Island’s long fall season makes the region especially well-suited for growing the following crops, which will respond favorably to the gradually cooling temperatures ahead.

Kale

Among the most cold-hardy vegetables, kale can be harvested right through snowfall. In fact, its flavor improves after being “kissed” by frost.

Kale generally thrives in full sun to part shade, but when planting for a fall harvest, try to provide as much sun exposure as possible. Expect plants to grow from 1 to 3 feet tall and wide.

USES Rinse leaves individually, stack into a pile, roll and slice into 1-inch strips. Add to soups or stir-fries, or chop and enjoy raw in salads. Kale chips can be made by tearing leaves into pieces and placing them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkling with salt and baking in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until edges begin to brown.

Collard greens

Collards, too, become more flavorful and tender after enduring a frost, and they can survive snow in the garden as well. Seedlings, called starts, are best for planting mid-August, though seeds can be sown directly into moist, fertile soil in July or early August.

Plants can reach 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, so space accordingly to allow for their mature size. Expect to start harvesting in about 60 days, removing outer leaves from the bottom of the plant first, moving up as needed so the plant eventually takes on the appearance of a palm tree.

USES Rinse leaves well, then strip leaves off their tough center stems. Because leaves are tough as well, they require boiling before use in recipes. It’s best to stack leaves into a pile, roll the pile and slice it into half-inch or 1-inch slices before boiling in salted water, then lowering to a simmer for 45 minutes. Drain, then saute with chopped bacon, butter, salt, pepper and a few dashes of hot sauce.  

Beets

Fall-planted beets produce deeper color and sweeter flavor than their spring-grown counterparts because they respond especially well to progressively cooler weather. They require regular, ample watering and can be harvested when they reach 2 inches wide. Start checking their size at the end of September by gently moving soil away. Replace soil if they aren’t ready — but do so gingerly so as not to disturb their shallow root system.

USES The wonderful thing about beets is that you can get two side dishes from one plant. Scrub and rinse beets, then wrap them in a foil pouch and roast at 400 degrees on a rimmed baking sheet for 45 to 60 minutes, depending on size (smaller beets will cook sooner than larger ones; test with a knife for softness). Allow to cool, then slip off their skin with your hands (wear gloves to prevent staining). Slice or dice beets, drizzle with oil, salt and pepper to add hot, or add to salads.

To cook greens, rinse, stack, roll and slice, as instructed earlier for other greens, then saute in oil with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Swiss chard

Chards are very low maintenance, but thrive better in fertile soil. Mix a 5-10-5 fertilizer into soil at the rate of one cup per 20-foot row or — if growing just a few plants — add one tablespoon to each planting hole. For optimum quality, remove leaves when they are about 12 inches long.

USES Rinse, stack and slice as above, then saute in oil with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Ribs can be diced and cooked separately or along with leaves. Makes a satisfying meal when served over white or red beans.  

EXOTIC GREENS

Want to try something exotic? These popular Asian vegetables, recommended by Caroline Kiang, former extension educator with the Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead, are delicious — and, she says, perfectly suited for a fall harvest on Long Island.

CPISPY CHOY A green-stalk Chinese loose-leaf cabbage (Brassica rapa, Crispy Choy) is a fast-maturing, crisp, green vegetable that can be harvested 45 days after sowing. It grows 8 inches tall with 8 to 12 light green stalks topped by dark green spoon-shaped leaves. Harvest it before any side-shoots develop. Both stalk and leaves are used in stir-fries and soups.

GAI LOHN Chinese broccoli (Brassica oleracea, Alboglabra) often referred to as Chinese kale by many seed companies, produces white or yellow flower buds along with stems that can be harvested as they appear. Reaching 8 to 10 inches tall, the silver-green plants are easier to grow than standard broccoli. Gai lohn matures in about 45 days and can be used in stir-fries with beef, mushrooms and water chestnuts, sprinkled with freshly grated ginger and soy sauce.

MIZUNA A Japanese mustard green (Brassica juncea Japonica) is a less-pungent green with deeply cut green leaves that form an ornamental clump up to 12-inches tall and wide. Harvest of outer leaves can begin when the plant is about 3 weeks old; the entire plant can be harvested 35 days after germination. Mizuna can be eaten raw or tossed in a salad with mild-flavored mixed greens.

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