Fall is Prime Planting Time

Here’s an essay on making the most of the growing season still ahead.

Don’t put away the shovels and trowels just yet. Warm days without sizzling heat make for perfect planting days. Whether you plant fall lettuces to be enjoyed now or bulbs for spring—get out and enjoy your garden.

Plant new vegetables

If fall vegetable gardening is new to you, it’s a great way to edge into new gardening skills with low risk. Homegrown fall greens are a wonderful complement to hearty autumn meals.

The easiest bet is to let someone else get them started for you. Calls around to see if your local garden center has  fall lettuces and vegetable starts.

For seed growers, there’s time still for fall lettuce and radishes that are ready for harvest in four to six weeks. Major online retailers like Burpees.com can get seeds to you quickly. If you are using leftover seeds from spring planting, sprinkle seeds generously to ensure a good germination rate. Keep fall seeds well watered.

Work in a few handfuls of compost to your spot or pot to add nutrition to summer-spent soil. Try container plantings that can be moved around to capture the most sunshine.

Between the seeds I started last month and transplants I picked up locally, I have enough to fill in spaces vacated by faded cucumbers and squashes. This weekend I planted red and green leaf lettuce that can be cut and enjoyed a little bit at a time, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens and good-sized Chinese cabbage.

The pole beans I planted in early August are six feet tall and in full flower, providing needed shade for the foot-high snow pea vines growing up among them.

If you can’t find fall vegetable starts near you, be sure to let your local garden center know for next year.

Plant new trees and shrubs

Major plantings like trees and shrubs are significant investments in time, money and space. If you are planting yourself, talk through your choices with the experts at your local garden center or landscaping service.

Rutgers Cooperative Extension offers two helpful brochure: Transplanting Trees and Shrubs and Tree Problems Caused by People in the Suburban Landscape.

My fall plans include replacing a boring yew with a New Jersey-native flowering and berrying shrub. The job is small enough that I feel confident I can do it myself.

Plant spring bulbs

Planting spring bulbs in the fall is an optimistic act. There’s plenty of time and selection of spring bulbs available at local garden centers and from mail-order retailers.

Plant summer garlic

Garlic is one of the nicest, easiest crops to grow and is vastly superior in flavor to supermarket garlic. Buy garlic bulbs that are specifically meant for planting in the garden. You’ll only have to make this purchase once since next year’s planting cloves will come from your first harvest. Choose “hard neck” varieties if you want delicious spring scapes. Amend your garlic plot with compost and plant according to directions. If you plant in the next few weeks, your garlic will be a few inches tall before the ground freezes hard.

The summer harvest season is all about taking, so think about fall as a time to give back by planting something new.

6 Sustainable Sweet Ideas for Valentine’s Day

Show your sweetheart you love the world as much as them.

Here are 6 ideas to make the sweets-for-your-sweetie more sustainable and easier on the environment.

#1: Pour It On Thick With Maple Sugar
Satisfy your sweet tooth with delicious, nutritious maple syrup. Real maple syrup is more expensive than pancake syrup, but a little goes a long way and adds nutrient-packed taste. New England-produced maple syrup is available at local supermarkets, for a regionally-produced, sustainably grown, delicious sweetness.

Two upcoming NJ events are: Feb. 23 at the Reeve-Reed Arboretum in Summit and Mar. 15-16 at Lusscroft Farm in Sussex County.

#2: Make It the Thought That Counts, Not the Card
You can say it better than Hallmark. Make a card with magazine-cut-outs. Tramp out an I Love You in the snow. Hide a list of the top 10 reasons you love someone in a pocket. Bake their favorite cookies. Let them drive the remote. Do their most-hated chore. Call them just because. Create your own tradition that costs less, doesn’t produce landfill trash and shows how you feel.

#3: Dress Up (or Down) and Dine Local
Whether you pick white-linen upscale or family friendly, a close-to-home night out saves gas and supports local business.

#4: Say It with Flowers, But Greener Ones
It’s hard to think about, but commercially grown cut flowers that come from South America often are produced using pesticides and labor practices that put floral workers at high risk of chemical exposure and harm.

Whole Foods Market sells cut flowers that ensure better wages, environmental practices and working conditions.

#5: Make Their Heart Beat Faster
Spend time, rather than money, and get outside for a heart-healthy Valentine’s Day for a walk or hike. Visit the penguins at the zoo. Find a good spot to look at the skyline twinkle. Skate hand-in-hand at your local rink.

#6: Chocolate but Better
Bypass the generic big red heart-shaped box and spend a little more for an earth- and worker-friendly choice of organic, fair-trade or locally-made chocolate. Find them at Whole Foods Market and specialty grocers.

With a drop of creativity and an extra dollop of planning, you can show your sweethearts that you love the world we live in just as much as them.