This article was first published in the Chautauqua
This week the autumn winds have been blowing in the season change, and blowing the leaves all over our deck and garden beds. In the midst of bringing in kilos of tomatoes and digging our root crops, I am sweeping off leaves and cleaning up my raised beds near the house. After pulling out the remaining plants, I am refreshing their soil with worm castings and compost. Then I am adding one more thing: seeds!
That's right – as the leaves fall down, telling tales of cold temperatures and winter, I am remembering the joy of the first spring greens. Two years ago, while thinking about how things work 'in nature' when humans aren't around to pick, preserve and replant seeds, we decided to try planting some lettuce in the fall to see what might happen in the spring. We planted several varieties in a couple locations, and then waited and watched.
What we found was the head lettuces came up along side the first shoots of grass and grew well in the cooler spring temperatures. It seemed that the leaf lettuces didn't do as well and we didn't really get a jump start by planting them this way. Last fall we let the head lettuces go to seed and didn't disturb the soil around them. This spring, we once again had early head lettuce.
This year we've added two raised beds just off our deck – the perfect place for greens, making them easy to harvest as needed. Therefore this fall I am moving my 'perennial patch' of lettuce. In the next few weeks I will be planting our head lettuce varieties alongside some spinach, arugula and a few other greens. I will stagger the planting over the weeks to help increase their success. If we get some moisture in early fall before the ground freezes, some seed may germinate and begin to grow destroying their chance of making it through the winter. Staggering the seeding means increasing the possibility that some seeds will remain dormant and sleep through the winter until spring brings the right conditions.
Growing them closer to the house, in a raised bed means that their soil will likely warm up sooner thus giving them the right growing conditions, earlier.
I enjoy fall – the fresh air and the beautiful colours, wild berries that get better after the first frost. I will even give winter some compliments when the world is clean and white and is giving us a break from being out labouring in the sun. However spring is still a favourite. Spring when she is bursting into bright greens and first flowers (I am a May baby, after all). So these seeds also hold some promise for me. When the winter is feeling too long and I am missing my fresh salads, I can look out over my coffee cup at the raised beds and take comfort in the early greens waiting alongside me.