It’s Time to Start Planning Your Fall Garden

This is the most bittersweet time of year for gardeners—just as you’re harvesting the fruits of your hard labor, the leaves in your garden are starting to yellow indicating that fall is near. It’s the best of times, and the worst of times.

However, even as you begin to clear out spent vines, never fear: Some crops thrive in the waning days of summer and the cooler autumn, so now is the time to start planning your fall garden.

This past weekend, I began mapping out what my fall/winter crops will be and where they’ll live in the garden. The following is the list of plants that made the cut.

Waltham Broccoli

This is a new one for me. I tried to grow broccoli without much success the first year I gardened, so I’ve avoided it until now. I figured I’ve learned a ton by now, though, and decided to give it another shot. This variety is particularly cold-hardy, so it is especially suited to growing in the fall. Check out this story on how to grow broccoli successfully this fall.

When to plant: Transplant seedlings at the end of August or in early September. Broccoli tends to bolt in temperatures above 80 degrees, so make sure you avoid planting it during a heat wave.

Sunlight requirements: Though broccoli doesn’t like it hot, it really likes it sunny so give your plant at least six hours of sunlight daily.

Pusa Gulabi Radish

I love the spicy bite of radishes, but they’re a bit too pungent for my daughter, Molly, though she like the flavor. That’s why I’m growing Pusa Gulabi this year, as they are, apparently, on the milder side. An Indian winter radish, Pusa Gulabi is a brilliant pink color and was specifically bred with high amounts of carotenoids, anthocyanins, and vitamin C to make it extra nutritious.

When to plant: Thought it is a winter radish (radish generally grows best in 50- to 65-degree temperatures), this variety can tolerate summer temperatures so feel free to plant seeds right away. Succession planting every 7-10 days will ensure a continual crop of radishes this fall.

Sunlight requirements: Radishes require at least 6 hours of full sun per day, but they are tolerant of some shade.

Sugar Snap Peas

Another favorite in my household are sweet and crunchy sugar snap peas. Though most people associate them with spring, I’m going to try growing them in the fall this year.

When to plant: These take 100 days to mature, so it’s a good idea to get seeds in the ground by mid-August. Even though this is a cool-weather crop, the seeds need a bit of warmth to germinate so planting them in the last days of summer should give them an initial boost.

Sunlight requirements: Peas require full sun, but if it’s still hot out they can also thrive in partial shade.

Cour Di Bue Cabbage

I chose this variety because it is tender and fairly compact, so it should be do well in containers. An Italian heirloom variety, it ends up being about 3 to 4 lbs.

When to plant: For fall harvest, it’s best to plant cabbage midsummer. This variety, however, is a short-season crop so I recently direct sowed seeds outside. Keeping my fingers crossed. Otherwise, transplanting a cabbage seedling now is a good idea.

Sunlight requirements: Cabbage needs at least six hours of full sun each day.

Purple Dragon Carrots

Carrots are sweeter in cold weather, so why not grow them for fall? This variety supposedly appeals to picky kids and adults, so with a son who is a finicky eater, I’ll take all the help I can get! The carrots are also a striking reddish-purple color, which will certainly jazz up the salads and veggie trays.

When to plant: Carrots can take up to 21 days to germinate so put them in the ground now! To encourage them to sprout, make sure you keep the seeds moist at all times. Once they have sprouted, you have to thin them out to ensure they have run underground to grow.

Sunlight requirements: Full sun but can tolerate partial shade.

Rocky Top Lettuce Mix

If you’re going to put in the time and effort to grow lettuce, it might as well be a variety you can’t find in stores. This blend has several different, brightly colored varieties.

When to plant: Lettuce hates hot weather, so end of August and early September is the perfect time to plant it.

Sunlight requirements: Lettuce can tolerate partial shade.

Japanese Giant Red Mustard Greens

These with its strong, almost garlic-like mustard flavor is my favorite variety of mustard greens. I LOVE it. Seriously. They are easy to germinate and easy to grow and taste best in cool weather.

When to plant: These can take anywhere from 10 to 20 days to germinate, but I’ve never had them take longer than 10 days. Succession plant every 10 days for a continual harvest. They don’t really like hot weather, so take that into consideration when planting.

Sunlight requirements: Full sun but tolerates partial shade.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

Recipe: Tzatziki Sauce

I have had a remarkably productive crop of cucumbers this year. Which is just fine because we love cucumbers in my house. In fact, one of my family’s favorite sauces is tzatziki sauce, which is made with yogurt and cucumbers. Though you’ll most often find this Greek sauce on the menu next to gyros and falafels, it is amazingly good on lots of things. Put a dollop on your soup or smear it on your sandwich if you require a tangy sauce with a crunch. Try it!

Tzatziki Sauce

Prep Time 30 mins

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Cucumber, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 Lemon, about 2 tbsp of juice
  • 1 tsp Champagne vinegar
  • 1.5 cups Plain Greek Yogurt, Fage preferred
  • 3 tbsp Dill and mint, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 Small Garlic clove
  • Salt, to taste

Instructions
 

  • Deseed and finely chop one cucumber. Most recipes will tell you to grate it seeds and all, but I find I don’t have to salt the cucumbers and strain the water off if I just deseed it. I also like the crunch of larger pieces of cucumber. Chop herbs and smash or finely chop garlic.
  • Put yogurt into bowl. It is also important to use Fage Greek yogurt because it is thick and has already been strained – this way, you won’t have to do it. If you don’t have Greek yogurt, you can strain regular yogurt to a Greek yogurt consistency. First, line a sieve with a coffee filter and then set over a bowl. Spoon in 3 cups of yogurt to yield 1 ½ cups ofGreek-style yogurt, refrigerate and let drain for two hours.
  • Add, chopped cucumbers, herbs and garlic to yogurt.Stir and then add lemon and then vinegar. Slowly stir in olive oil and add salt to taste.
<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

5 Tips for Growing Broccoli in Containers and Raised Beds

When I first started gardening, the crop that I was most excited about growing was broccoli.

I decided on a springtime planting in one of my raised beds. Though I nurtured that plant obsessively –I got a pretty stalk with lots of green – a head never sprouted. It was a most frustrating experience.

But after much more practice in the garden coupled with a ton of research, I’ve decided to give broccoli another try. Here are some of the things that I will do to make sure I get a bumper crop of broccoli this year. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Choose your growing season wisely.

Opting for growing broccoli in the spring of Chicago was probably a mistake. An inconsistent season weather-wise, growing spring crops in Chicago – where it can snow even in April – is a difficult proposition. About the only thing I can ever grow successfully in the spring is greens. Anyway, back to broccoli. This year, I decided to try growing broccoli in the fall. Since broccoli can take 50-60 days from transplant to harvest, starting plants in August gives them a long enough runway to give them a good growing season in the waning days of summer so they can mature in cooler fall days. (Broccoli that matures during cool weather tastes sweeter than at any other time.) Also, broccoli can withstand temperature down to 20 degrees, so you can still be potentially harvesting it in December – depending on Chicago’s erratic weather, that is.

Plant it at the right time.

To figure out when to plant broccoli is easy-peasy. If you are direct sowing in your garden, plant seeds 85 to 100 days before the average first fall frost in your area. According to the Farmers Almanac, the first frost date in Chicago is Oct. 29 – hence the perfect time to plant seeds is in early August. So, get those seeds in the ground right now. If you decide to transplant a seedling rather than direct sowing, plant it 10 days to the “days to maturity” for the variety you’re growing and then count backwards from your expected first fall frost date. For Waltham, the variety of broccoli I’m growing, it takes 50-60 days to maturity from transplant. So, the ideal time to plant a Waltham transplant would be late August to early September.

Choose the right size container – and space properly in your raised bed.

One of the biggest mistakes novice container gardeners make is either choosing a too-small container or planting crops too closely together in their raised bed. For just one broccoli plant, you’ll need a 3- to 5-gallon container that is at least 12 inches deep; I’m growing two plants per each 10-gallon fabric container. (I like fabric containers with handles because they allow me to chase the light in the garden and move plant around with ease.) In a raised bed, plant each sprout 15-18 inches apart.

Pick the right soil, water consistently and plant in full sun.

Broccoli needs loose, well-draining soil to grow properly, so choose soil wisely. The plants prefer slightly acidic soil, rich in organic nutrients so add compost to the planting hole, as well as a good layer on top. Make sure when you’re planting to tamp down the dirt in the pot or in the bed because brassicas like compacted soil. However, broccoli is prone to root-rot so it’s really important to water consistently to help avoid root rot – you want to make sure the soil is always damp, but you don’t want to overwater as broccoli don’t like wet feet. And last but not least, broccoli plants need a LOT of sun – at least six hours a day. The tricky thing about broccoli is that though it requires full sun, the plant will also start to bolt at temperatures above 80 degrees. This is where having your plants in fabric containers with handles come in handy – you can move the naturally cooler containers around to either sunnier or less-hot spots in your garden.

Fertilize and manage pests consistently.

Broccoli is a heavy feeder so it’s vital that you fertilize them at planting with a well-rounded fertilizer (I like Espoma Garden Tone) and a couple of times during the seasons after that. Broccoli also attracts pests like cabbage loopers. You can control them with BT or Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a soil-born bacterium that kills caterpillars like that cabbage loopers that love to munch on your broccoli but won’t harm beneficial insects.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

10 Ways to Use Up Those Summer Herbs

If you’re like me, you have more herbs than you know what to do with in your garden. Beyond drying and freezing, I have to find creative ways to make sure I’m not letting all that herby goodness go to waste. There are so many things you can do with herbs and the following is a list of some of the things I’ve been doing with my herbs this summer.

Stir up Pesto

One of the tried-and-true standbys for using up an abundance of basil is to make delicious pesto. A spicy sauce made with basil, garlic, Parmesan-Reggiano, pine nuts and olive oil (I also add a Fresno pepper for bite), you can use pesto on everything from pasta to sandwiches or even as a marinade – and, bonus, it freezes really well, too. (Freezing it in ice trays and then storing the cubes in a storage bag is the way to go.) Here is a simple, basic pesto recipe that should take you no more than 15 minutes. The sauce is traditionally made using a mortar and pestle, which is how I like to do it, but feel free to use a food processor.

Basic Basil Pesto

Prep Time 15 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian

Equipment

  • Mortar and Pestle or Food Processor

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups Basil
  • 2 Garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Pine Nuts
  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil
  • Salt, to taste

Instructions
 

  • Put basil into food processor or mortar andpestle to process.
  • After processed, add garlic, pine nuts, andcheese.
  • Slowly drizzle in olive oil as sauce isprocessing. Add salt to taste.
Keyword Basil, Pesto

Arrange a Bouquet

One of my favorite ways to use herbs is to make herbal bouquets. Many herbs produce lovely flowers so it’s a great way to bring both the beauty and luscious scents from the garden inside. This is one that I made last week with my daughter, Molly. We used dill, Thai basil, Mexican mint, lavender and calendula.


Concoct an Herbal Oil Infusion

To take advantage of the beneficial properties of specific herbs, consider making an herbal oil infusion. Some oil infusions (comfrey, for example) may be good for scrapes and burns others for beauty serums and creams (lavender, for example). Make your own herbal oil infusion at home with the following recipe.

Recipe: How to Make a Long Herbal Oil Infusion

  1. Fill a one-pint jar with a tight-fitting lid about halfway to two-thirds with dried herb of choice. Cover leaves with preferred carrier oil, such as olive, avocado, coconut, or grapeseed.
  2. To make a long oil infusion, leave for six weeks and shake the jar a couple of times a day. After six weeks, strain the oil through cheesecloth.
  3. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of vitamin E to help preserve the oil. You can also add a few drops of essential oils like rosemary, lavender, or chamomile to make your oil even more beneficial.

Blend Chimichurri

I like to think of Chimichurri as a kind pesto … just made with parsley. An Argentinian sauce used as a marinade or as a table condiment, it is usually eaten with steak. But for those eschewing meat, you can also eat it with veggies or cheese. Here is a basic recipe.

Basic Chimichurri

Prep Time 15 mins

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Cup Parsley
  • Few Sprigs of Oregano
  • 1 Small Shallot
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Small Fresno Pepper or Red Jalapeno
  • 1/3 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 3/4 Cup Olive Oil

Instructions
 

  • Put parsley and oregano into food processor or mortar and pestle to process.
  • After processed, add garlic, shallot and pepper and process. Add vinegar.
  • Slowly drizzle in olive oil as sauce is processing. Add salt to taste.

Whip up Compound Butter

Compound butter is a great way to get the flavor of all the different kinds of herb you grew in the summer year-round. Easily frozen, there are a ton of different combinations. Here is a good simple recipe:

  • Get good butter. I like using European butters because they have more butterfat, hence making your compound butter extra creamy and delicious.
  • Soften butter to room temperature until it is easily stir-able—this will probably take a few hours.
  • Gather the herb of your choice. You can use either dried or fresh herbs, but if you’re using fresh, make sure the herbs have had several hours to air dry after rinsing before mixing them into the butter. You don’t want to mix water into the butter.
  • Chop finely and mix into butter. You can also add garlic, lemon peel, or even ginger. Experiment with flavors you like!
  • To store in the freezer, scoop the herb butter onto a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper. Shape it into a log by rolling it in the paper and wrap tightly on each end. I also put them in freezer bags to help prevent freezer burn.

Brew Herbal Infused Water

I love adding herbs to water to get all the beneficial nutrients. You can add just a bit to a cool drink and sip immediately for a delicious summer refresher, or steep herbs like tea for longer periods to wring out even more nutrients. To get even more of the medicinal benefits, some folks make what’s called a long herbal infusion. Check out the following recipe courtesy clinical herbalist Kathleen Raven Wildwood, founder of the Verona, Wisc.-based Wildwood Institute.

  1. Take one ounce of chosen dried herb.
  2. Place in a canning jar. Use a one-quart jar for leaves (such as basil), or hardy flowers (such as red clover), one-pint jar for roots, barks, or berries (such as rose hips).
  3. Cover completely with boiling water, stir with chopstick or knife and add more water until full.
  4. Place lid on and let sit four-to-eight hours for leaves or hardy flowers, eight hours for roots.
  5. When done brewing, strain and refrigerate. Infusion will keep for 48 hours in the refrigerator. Infusions may be reheated. (Do not boil, preferably. It is still OK to drink if it is boiled, but nutrients may be lost.) Infusions may be iced, sweetened, and milk may be added. Some do well with salt or tamari, such as nettle.

Infuse Vodka

Nothing could be better to use (or easier to make) for summer cocktails than infused vodka. For basil vodka, which is the perfect base for summery, refreshing drinks, grab a large bunch of fresh basil, stick the leaves in a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid, fill with plain vodka, seal the lid and sit the jar in a cool, dark place for up to three days. Taste it every day to get it to the flavor you prefer. After three days, strain out the basil leaves and pour yourself a cocktail! You can do with this with any herb you’d like.


Stir up Simple Syrup

Speaking of Happy Hour, you can get some of that same herbally goodness in your cocktails with herbal simple syrup. Here is a great base recipe.

Herbal Simple Syrup

Prep Time 26 mins

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1/4 to 1 Cup Fresh Herbs

Instructions
 

  • Combine water, sugar, and herbs in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir continually until sugar dissolves and then simmer for1 minute.
  • Remove from heat and let syrup steep with herbs, about half an hour. Note the amounts of herbs will depend on the strength of the herbs themselves. You may, for example, need 1/4 cup of lavender but 1 cup of basil to get the strength of flavor you desire.
  • Cool and pour syrup into container through a mesh strainer to remove herbs. Store in the fridge for up to one month.

Shake Up Some Herbal Salt

Herbal salt is the easiest thing ever to make. For real. Just stick a spring of rosemary (or whatever) into your salt cellar and call it a day. You’ll have fragrant salt to add as a finisher to your dishes at the table.


Invent an Herbal Hair Rinse

There is nothing my locs like more than a good herbal rinse. I usually collect a few from my garden and let it sit in a jar with hot water for a few hours. Sometimes I add a hibiscus teabag and I always add a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.

Try this recipe. Grab handful of:

  • Lavender (moisturizes dry scalp, fights hair loss, increase circulation to scalp)
  • Chamomile (fights dandruff and dry scalp, restores shines, reduces hair loss)
  • Rosemary (prevents premature graying, stops hair loss, boosts shine, decreases dandruff)
  • Calendula (thickens hair, reduces dandruff, improves scalp condition, conditions)
  • Basil (increases scalp circulation, stimulates hair follicles for new hair growth)

Put herbs in large mason jar. Pour hot water over herbs and then add 3-4 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar. Let sit for a few hours.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

Support These Black-Owned Seed Companies

One way to show love for the Black community during these times is to support Black-owned businesses. The following is a list of Black-owned seed sellers that I will try to keep updated. Happy shopping!

Black-Owned Seed Sellers

If you would like to be added to the list, or know of a Black-owned seed company not on the list, let me know!

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.