This week we continue to plant cool season veggies. Late summer is a great time to start cool season vegetables from seed because the soil temperature is warm, and seeds germinate very quickly. Growth will be quick while our weather stays hot, but then will slow down as temperatures cool in the fall.
The plants we will start today will benefit from the fast start in warm weather but will enjoy cooler weather while the plant matures in October and November.
Leeks are easy to grow in our cool season, and they are great to use as a mild onion. Cooking with a leek is a nice way to change up a recipe that usually calls for an onion, and they are great in soups. Perhaps the best part of growing leeks is the great joke potential. At home when I harvest a leek and bring it to the kitchen sink to rinse off, I like to exclaim “A LEEK”. Whoever is nearby always panics and thinks we have a plumbing problem… until I start laughing and hold up the leek. It is a great joke, and always makes me laugh.
When planting leek seeds, plant them in a row with a seed every inch or so. Once they sprout, thin them so they are 4 inches apart. The best part of the leek is the white part. To blanch the leek, and create as much white as possible, once the leeks are the width of a pencil, gradually draw soil up around the base of the plant to blanch the lower stem. Leeks take 4 months to reach maturity, and mature best with temperatures below 75 degrees. Pick them when they are an inch or more in diameter. If planted now, leeks will be ready to harvest in December, when our temperatures are usually below 75.
Spinach is a cool season veggie that does well in the fall once the heat has broken. Spinach seeds struggle to germinate when soil temperatures are over 85 degrees but do better when the soil temperature is closer to 70 degrees.
Plant the seeds in a row two inches apart ½ inch deep. Firm the soil over the seed to help with germination. Choosing a spinach variety that is resistant to bolting is important. Since our weather rarely has long periods of cool weather through the fall, winter and into spring, the warm weather after a cool spell will encourage the plant to grow fast, flower, then go to seed.
Spinach will grow quickly in the warmer weather and is ready to harvest in a month and a half. Spinach likes a lot of water, so keep the soil moist. A good, soaking watering in the morning is best… one that will keep the soil damp six inches deep. This will grow deep roots, instead of shallow ones.
Pick the leaves when they are 3-6 inches long by picking the individual leaves. Choose the larger outside leaves first, and let the smaller ones continue to grow. Spinach planted now will grow quickly. Spinach planted when it gets cooler in September and October can last all winter long. Spinach grows slowly in cooler weather, but it will survive cold weather down to 20 degrees. It is a great plant to keep in the garden through the winter.