In a year when we are all happier to harvest our own vegetables than to head to a farm stand (only one task requires a mask), there are ways to keep the produce coming. In June, concerned about the procrastinating vegetable gardener, I suggested plants that could be sown then for harvest later in the season, and even a few ways to make germination easier (pre-germinating seeds helps move them forward more quickly if you are direct sowing).
Anyone who took my advice at the time is probably already reaping the benefits from what they sowed at that time, ideally using green beans and cucumbers along with salad greens and young brassicas to fill their summer table. (One of my favorite summer salads uses blanched green beans tossed while warm with a clove of garlic, red wine vinegar, a chiffonade of basil and some salt and pepper. It can be served at room temperature for dinner and cold as a side the next day at lunch. This salad leads me to ponder what we can sow in this moment that, depending on the first frost of the season, might keep us eating out of our gardens right up until election day. Perhaps thinking the first frost could be as late as election day is wishful thinking, but this election has me filled with all sorts of hopeful thinking, and these days I am feeling somewhat optimistic about both my garden and the election.
But there are also moments when I feel less confident about the future, and the best antidote is to do something, and sowing seeds makes me feel engaged in what lies ahead. So as I apply for an absentee ballot, I am also planting a few seeds in the garden, with the hope that both will produce the results I hope for in the coming months.
There may not be time to grow tomatoes and pumpkins from seed sown in August, but I can plant spinach, members of the cabbage family, green beans, arugula and lettuce, not to mention carrots and radishes, and hope to harvest them in the months ahead. Some of these plants may not make it to maturity before the first chill of the season, but with the exception of green beans, they can all be eaten young, as baby vegetables and greens. And, while I hope the election does not have us contemplating eating our young, baby greens and bok choy can provide us sustenance in a season when we need it most. My friend Michele plants favas, knowing it is unlikely to get them to maturity, but finds the sautéed greens to be as desirable as the beans themselves. I have not asked if she likes them in combination with a liver and some nice Chianti, as I am trying to remain positive in a difficult election year, but I may end up asking anyway, as I also like to be prepared for the worst.
I remember one Thanksgiving, when I lived in Connecticut, when our Thanksgiving repast included some delightful sautéed baby bok choy and some carrots with leeks that were the last crops to come out of our garden that season. They were the product of a late sowing, and they left me thankful, and while bok choy may not be the most traditional of Thanksgiving side dishes, it, like some of the selections on our ballot later this season, promised some diversity in our lives that seemed to bode well for the future.
A gardener grows through observation, experimentation, and learning from the failures, triumphs, and hard work of oneself and others. In this sense, all gardeners are self-taught, while at the same time intrinsically connected to a tradition and a community that finds satisfaction through working the soil and sharing their experiences with one another. This column explores those relationships and how we learn about the world around us from plants and our fellow gardeners.