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Avid gardeners need not quit in August

In 'weed month,' some veggies are on cusp of ripening


Gardeners are harvesting their bounty this month, but that doesn't have to end with summer.In August, most vegetable gardens in Western Oregon are in full swing. Tomatoes are ripening, cucumbers and zucchini are overproducing, and sweet corn ears are filling out. Onions and garlic should be harvested when about half of the plants have tops that have fallen over. The Anglo-Saxons called August “weod monath” or “weed month” because, as gardeners know, it is the month when weeds and other plants grow most rapidly.

Find a moment between weeding and harvesting to plant some crops for fall and winter. With 60 to 75 more frost-free days, many crops can still be planted. Mustard greens, like Red Giant or mizuna, can be seeded at the beginning of August. These greens have a sharp mustardy bite that is pleasant mixed in salads or as a green on sandwiches. They can be harvested for leaves in the fall, but are also hardy enough to stand through the winter without protection.

Spinach can also still be seeded for fall. The plants are fast-growing and will continue to produce past our first frost. Spinach doesn’t appreciate constant rain, however, so without cover it won’t last the winter.

A fall/winter green that can be seeded throughout the month of August is corn salad or mâche. This is a European green with a lovely, nutty, floral flavor. The plants grow in small rosettes that can be harvested whole. They make a fantastic salad on their own or paired with roasted beets. Corn salad scoffs at cold weather and rain. It can be broadcast into garden beds now and harvested all winter.

Lettuce should also be seeded in August. Early August seedings will mature unprotected for fall salads. Seedings after the third week of the month should be put into beds that can be covered with hoops and plastic. Other salad greens like escarole, frisée and radicchio are hardier than lettuce and make a good substitute lettuce for gardeners who do not want to put up winter protection.

Transplant winter greens in August such as collards, kale, and chard. These vitamin-packed plants produce leaves in the late fall and early winter. After a slow-growth period during the darkest time of the year, December and January, the same plants will start regrowing in February. Some of the best harvests will be in March and April, before they start making flowers. The buds of collards and kale are also edible and are known as “Canadian broccoli” or raab.

Overwintering broccoli and cauliflower will be transplanted into our garden in August. These unique Northwestern crops stand outside through all but the coldest winter and make a crop in April and May. They are pest- and trouble-free and produce as the raab is finishing up.

Celery and Florence fennel (bulbing fennel) can also be transplanted in August. Both can be stringy if they are planted in the spring because they mature as the days are getting hotter. Planted now, they mature as temperatures cool down and stay tender.

Both vegetables will last in the garden through November or December, although they do succumb to harder frosts. Transplant them now and have fresh veggies from your garden for Thanksgiving.

— Polly Gottesman owns Pumpkin Ridge Gardens, a 20-acre organic farm near North Plains, with her husband, James Just. The couple has four children: Seth, Eli, Kate and Meg. For more information, see pumpkinridgegardens.com.

BRAISED FENNEL WITH DICED VEGETABLES

2 large fennel bulbs

1 Tbs. chopped fennel greens

1 carrot, finely diced

1 small onion, finely diced

¼ tsp. dried thyme

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper

½ c. dry white wine

1 Tbs. butter

Keeping the root end of the fennel bulb intact, halve each bulb lengthwise. Heat the oil in a large skillet, add the diced vegetables and herbs, and sauté over medium-high heat until the onion begins to color. Move the vegetables to one side of the pan and add the fennel bulbs, cut sides down. Spoon the vegetables over and around them, season with salt and pepper and pour in 1 cup of water. Lower the heat to medium, cover and cook until the liquid has evaporated, 10-12 minutes. Give the diced vegetables a stir and add ½ cup of water. Cover and cook until the fennel is tender-firm when pierced with a knife, 15 to 20 minutes. By this time it should be nicely browned on the bottom.

Remove the vegetables and the fennel to a serving dish, placing the fennel cut side up. Return the pan to the heat, add the wine and butter, and scrape up the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan. When the wine and butter have reduced by half, add fennel greens, taste for salt, and season with pepper. Spoon the sauce over the fennel and serve. Serves 2 to 4. From "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison.

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