Once the fall school term approaches, many home gardeners give up on the vegetable garden as other activities and projects seem to need more attention. Vegetable gardens can provide fresh produce well into October and maybe even early November depending, on what is grown.
As the growing season moves forward, the weather begins to change in day length and in temperatures during the day and night. The vegetables may slow down in production a bit, yet the produce harvested is just as nutritious for the family as it was all summer long.
Season extension is one way to be sure you have good produce for a long time yet. Those same kinds of vegetables that liked the cool and cold spring weather also enjoy the same fall conditions. A quick fall crop are radishes is a good example. You can plant spring radishes again or sow winter radishes. Swiss chard is a crop that grows very well into late fall on its own without extra care from the gardener. Chard now comes in several bright colors and brightens the dinner table when served.
We might not have enough season left for greens, lettuces and mustards to mature, yet harvesting them as "baby greens" or "micro greens" is an easy way to get them into salads or to dress up the dinner plate as an edible garnish.
Taking the idea of season extension further, rather than digging up the carrots and parsnips for storage elsewhere, mulching them in, right in the garden, with some clean straw allows you to go out with snow on the ground and dig fresh carrots and parsnips during the winter months. As a bonus, they will have a sweeter flavor due to remaining in the garden.
Another method of season extension is to create a temporary cover or canopy over the row(s) to keep our early frosts, or even a light freeze, from killing those vegetable plants. Tomatoes and peppers are a warm season crop, yet when protected, they can give us some more fruit past the killing frosts. Covering the entire row may be impractical, but covering a few plants is doable. Covering cole crops, like cabbage, can provide us fresh heads of cabbage well into December.
This might be stretching the idea of season extension in the true sense, yet if you have a lot of great produce that you are not going to get to harvest and eat fresh, freezing that produce for use in the short term may be valid. Not all kinds of produce freeze well, such as cabbage, celery, potatoes, cucumbers, leafy greens and radishes. These products become water-logged and limp with a distasteful color, smell and flavor. According to Laura Barr, Nutrition and Wellness Educator, blanching to ensure food safety is a must. Freezing that produce is a good choice for preserving it up to one year. Blanching is a process that destroys destructive enzyme actions on the food. Plus, blanching cleans the surface, brightens the color and helps retain the nutritional value of the food product.
Keep on growing and enjoying your vegetable garden for weeks to come.
Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with "This Week in the Garden" on Facebook at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos. The 2017 Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk currently is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 630-553-5823 or at email@example.com.