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Summer’s heat is gone — so are the tomatoes, unfortunately — but there is a lot to look forward to. Beets, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and greens of all kinds are very much in season now. At my local community garden in Kansas City, I share three small raised-bed plots with my friends Kathy and Kristopher, and we’re digging in for a winter harvest.
Kansas City Community Gardens runs our small garden on a city lot right in the heart of town; it’s probably the smallest of the organization’s gardens, but our raised beds, at 4 x 8 feet, are just about the right size for part-time gardeners. Like many community gardens, KCCG also sells seeds and transplants of varieties recommended for our area, and at the end of August, I picked up six packs of kale and collard greens, along with beet, radish, and spinach seeds.
Kathy let one of our three beds rest over the summer, so I was able to turn the soil lightly, add a generous amount of chicken-manure fertilizer, and fill the bed with promising young transplants. I’m experimenting with Fiskars’ Big Grip tools this year, and found that the Multi-Purpose Planting Tool, which looks like a knife but has a very slightly scooped blade, made quick work of planting in the crumbly clay soil. A heavy straw mulch helps limit weeds, protects the small plants from cold winds, and limits drastic temperature changes in the soil. We’re counting on harvesting greens deep into November, and even later.
Kristopher and I ripped out the tomato plants in September, leaving basil, Poblano peppers, and a few zinnia plants but making plenty of room for healthy Swiss chard and spinach transplants. Kristopher picked the green cherry tomatoes clinging to the vines for homemade pickles, then grabbed a Big Grip trowel to help me set out the transplants. While we worked, we checked on our gardening neighbors’ crops in adjacent plots; they were having a lot of success with eggplant, squash, okra, peppers, and many herbs.
We weren’t the only ones planting fall crops. Gardeners working plots around us have impressive rows of beets and chard coming up, and we spotted mustard greens, turnips, broccoli, and lots of kale. ‘Winterbor’, ‘Toscana’, and ‘Red Russian’ kale are all very cold-tolerant, and their leaves actually taste better after a frost, which concentrates sugars in the plants. Swiss Chard is known for exceptional cold tolerance, down to 14 degrees without protection. With a cozy straw mulch around our plants, we hope to be able to pick greens through the holidays, and we’re looking forward to seeing our community gardening friends at their plots doing the same thing. We might not recognize each other at first, in our wooly coats and with hats pulled down over our ears, but the thought of picking delicious greens from the garden on a bright day in winter is already giving me a warm feeling.