September 23, 2016
If you’ve had a successful growing season, you might be looking at your summer vegetables with a bit of sadness. Squash and tomato leaves are turning crisp at the edges.
In my yard, the cooler weather means another (and maybe the last) flush of cherry tomatoes. We finally have yellow squash because we have become adept at hand fertilization.
Jerry Mendon, at Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise, said it’s not too soon to make the switch to winter vegetables.
Lettuce, spinach and chard all grow well through the winter months. They slow down as each month gets colder, then leap upward as the weather warms in spring.
Right now, while the air is still warm for germination, seeds can be planted each week for a staggered supply.
If you don’t have a black plastic truck bed liner filled with soil, you can grow loose-leaf veggies in pots.
I’ve been extremely happy with Tuscan Baby Leaf kale the past few years. You trim off the leaves several times a week, and the plant responds by providing more leaves.
Just like most vegetable plants, the bugs will find you. Yet, pests usually don’t get unmanageable until the end of the plant’s normal life cycle.
When damage is light, I’ll flip over the leaves and look for clusters of eggs. Sometimes I’ll spray the plants with a bottle filled with water and half a tablespoon of dish soap.
If I’m eating my vegetables with my eyes closed, for fear I will watch myself eating bug eggs, it’s time to yank the whole plant.
The squash, for example, is reaching its critical bug mass about now.
The new growth is covered with colonies of squash-sucking bugs. I spray with soapy water and am hoping to get a few more squash before Halloween.
Jerry Mendon assured me there will be a new batch of bugs that love fall vegetables.
Cabbage butterfly, for example, will land in the yard like Mary Poppins taking a ride on an east wind.
“As soon as a plant goes in, she is there,” Jerry said of the female cabbage butterfly.
These are the small, papery white butterflies, which often come in twos and threes. They dance delightfully in the yard, spreading cheer (and dumping eggs on anything edible). Like most caterpillars, these will gobble up leaves of Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, as well as kale, Jerry confirmed.
If it gets too bad, Jerry suggests Sevin dust (an insecticide). However, my plot of veggies is small enough I can usually spray and hand pick.
Greens and cold
Winter greens should be able to survive all but the coldest of cold.
Kale and lettuce seeds can also be tucked in among other plants. Just make sure you don’t plant some obscure exotic salad mix. You could yank the lettuce and throw the weeds in salad.
Cool season ornamentals
On the topic of Kale, Jerry just couldn’t say enough about ornamental winter kale. You could technically eat these plants, but they’re on the bitter side. Their beauty, however, is in bright winter color.
I told Jerry that winter kale had been a disappointment because they plants became a gathering spot for slugs.
The solution to this, Jerry said, is to mulch with cocoa bean shells. The shells are sharp and would do serious harm to a slug (or snail) silly enough to cross the cocoa bean shell terrain.
Another bonus, the mulch smells like chocolate for a little while. A bag is about 10 bucks.
By the way, Mendon’s has their seasonal sale, 40 percent off from Oct. 13-22.