“One thing I know is that I am never going to plant spinach again,” a volunteer at the Pickering Barn Community Garden in Issaquah commented with considerable emphasis the other day. Her spinach produced only a small crop before bolting in the summer heat. Her kale, on the other hand, has been perhaps a bit too productive.
September is an ideal month to share the output of this year’s kitchen garden with friends and neighbors. We have returned from our summer vacations and the kids are settled in school. We may have an extra large and tender heirloom squash that we can’t keep to ourselves, we may be getting a bit tired of that kale and wonder if there is a more interesting way to cook it, and we may be eager to relate our garden stories and garner some advice.
Some local experts are happy to help.
Where to share
With dry weather in the forecast, September is an ideal time to organize a neighborhood harvest party. Similar to block parties, harvest parties feature potluck contributions with ingredients picked fresh from neighborhood gardens. Sammamish and Issaquah are not actively promoting neighborhood block parties like Seattle and Bellevue; however, it is still relatively easy to set one up. The City of Bellevue’s tips on how to organize a successful party are easy to adapt to our cities. If you plan to make use of sidewalks or streets, remember to apply for a special permit for Issaquah or Sammamish.
If you participate in a P-patch, September is a better bet than October for a dry outdoor celebration starring produce from the garden. Some local P-patches combine a seed exchange with the annual harvest party.
If you are looking for an indoor event, join Sustainable Issaquah for an upcoming potluck. Bring your favorite garden dish and print out a few copies of the recipe to exchange.
And as always, you can share any extra vegetables your garden produces with hungry community members through the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank.
Time to harvest
Our September gardens offer an abundance to share. Potatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, corn, and summer squash will ripen to perfection in many Issaquah and Sammamish gardens.
Knowing when to harvest is the key to a delectable meal.
- You can harvest your potatoes when the plants wither and dry. “Meanwhile,” says Falaah Jones, the Seattle Tilth coordinator at the City’s Pickering Barn Community Garden, “ease up on the watering.”
- Your eggplants are ready to pick when they are still firm and glossy. Alas, many Issaquah and Sammamish gardeners are reporting a delayed eggplant harvest this year, with many plants still in their early blooming stages. As the nights cool, you may need to cover them with a cloche.
- Pick your cucumbers when they are no more than six inches long. You may want to wait longer before harvesting your heirloom varieties, however. Color, rather than size, dictates when to harvest many heirloom cucumbers. The Pickering Garden’s Poona Kheera cucumbers, for example, are ready to harvest when they turn a golden brown.
- Corn is ready to harvest when the silk strands darken and shrivel and the kernels feel plump and firm within the husks. This is typically about 20 days after the silk appears. Take care, though, as some corn silk is naturally dark (such as the silk of the heirloom varieties in the Pickering Barn garden).
- Most summer squash is best when picked relatively small. When the squashes become super-sized baseball bats, they are perhaps more suitable for fending off bears than eating. However, some heirloom varieties like Zucchino Rampicante remain tender and small-seeded until they are about 30 inches long.
The growing season isn’t over yet
“Nights are getting longer now and with clear skies some locations […] are dropping into the 30s and even to freezing,” warned Cliff Mass, University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, on his blog in late August. So soon!
Although most Issaquah and Sammamish gardens are unlikely to see their first frost until October, the Washington State Climatologist predicts that September temperatures will be below normal along the western seaboard. The models also predict below-normal precipitation.
This means that the growing season may end earlier than gardeners would like. The season isn’t over yet, however, and September is a good time to plant radishes, lettuces, chard, Asian greens, mustards, and, yes, spinach. With a bit of care, these plants should survive the winter.
With your potato and pea beds emptying, it is also a perfect month to sow cover crops that will add nutrients and organic matter to your soil to benefit next year’s garden. Rye, vetch, and clover are excellent cover crops to sow in September.
NOTE: Views expressed in this article are the author’s unless indicated otherwise.