Fall Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden

About 10 years ago, we had the deck on the side of our home dismantled. The contractor who did the work asked if he could have the twenty 12 x 2 x 13-foot pressure treated wood boards that had previously supported the deck floor. I didn’t know much about reclaiming used wood, but I remember thinking, If he wants it, maybe I should want it. I had him put the boards under our porch until I could figure out another use for them.

Many years later, I was looking at a barren, sunny area in my backyard and had a vision for a way to get more garden space for my vegetables — make raised beds using those old boards. I had a handyman build four 4 x 13-foot beds for me. Last summer, Jeremy Lekich, owner of Nashville Foodscapes, built two more raised beds and filled all six of them with his gorgeous, dark, chocolate-colored compost. Next, Jeremy and his team built a beautiful, simple, chicken-proof fence around the beds.

My compost bed is located behind the white picket fence in the photo above. The chickens have open access to it and it’s the first place they run to when I let them out in the morning.

Here is a photo of the same garden taken September 25, 2015

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I love the way Jeremy used inch-thick cardboard to smother and kill the crabgrass underneath the woodchip-covered paths in the new garden rather than using chemicals to do the same job. Now that I’ve become more educated by the fabulous education department of The Cumberland River Compact regarding water quality, runoff and watershed issues, I’m much more conscious about the use of chemicals that can leach into our soil and eventually into our ground water.

fall garden

On August 24, 2014, I planted a fall vegetable garden in three of the raised boxes with the intention of using hoops and agriculture cloth to protect the beds as we moved into winter. It was one big experiment and it was fun. First of all, I loved checking the garden beds every morning to see if seedlings had pushed through the dirt and unfurled their first leaves. Just knowing they were under there getting ready to pop kept me in a state of happy anticipation; I have been known to get on my hands and knees to inspect the earth in search of those first glimmers of green. Later, as it became colder in the winter, it was thrilling to go to the back garden and pick green onions and spinach from those same beds when a recipe called for them. Even with this year’s harsh winter: an early freeze in November, another one in January, and then a two-week freeze in February, many of the vegetables survived and perked up in March for an abundant spring harvest.

 

For those of you who are thinking of planting a fall/winter garden, I kept a photo journal of the project knowing a picture is worth many words. For each raised bed, I used four sequential pictures of how the plants looked as the weather temperature changed.

The raised bed series of photos were taken on 9/4, 10/9, 12/31 (taken from inside the covered garden, opposite direction), and 3/15, the day I took the protective cloth off.

Raised Bed #1, Root Vegetables
Left to Right: garlic, beets, garlic, carrots, green onions, leeks

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Garlic
Garlic cloves planted 9/15. Only about 15% of the plants survived the February freeze. The ones that survived are still forming their bulbs. In March, I added more garlic cloves. They should all be ready for harvest in August. Next year, I will mulch them with straw.

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“Colorful Beet Mix”
Seeds planted 8/24. We started snipping leaves for salads in October. None of the plants survived the February freeze. Next year, I will mulch them with straw.

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Green Onions (aka Scallions or Spring Onions)
I planted two rows of onion “sets” on 9/1 and two rows of onion seeds on 8/24 (on the right side). If you look closely, you can see the faint strands of green seedlings. Unfortunately, the young seedlings didn’t make it through the winter. We started harvesting green onions from the sets in November and continue to do so even now.

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“Kaleidoscope Carrots”
Seeds planted 8/24. Harvested through early May. The carrots had beautiful color, but were thin and not as flavorful as I had hoped.

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Leeks
Seedlings planted 9/15. Harvesting now.

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Raised Bed #2, Greens
Left to right: many lettuce varieties, mache, and spinach

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“Mesclun Lettuce Mix”
Seeds planted 8/24. This was the first seed to germinate in my fall garden. I pretty much watched it unfurl.

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“Gourmet Blend Lettuce Mix”
2 rows of seeds planted 8/24. By 9/18 only a third of the seeds had germinated. A huge difference from the Mesclun Mix on the left in the second photo.

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On 9/22  I bought “Salad Bowl Mix” seedlings and filled in the empty spaces created by the spotty germination of the Gourmet Blend Mix. We started eating lettuce by mid-October. Surprisingly, many of the red oak leaf lettuce plants survived the hard freezes. Note to self, plant more red, oak leaf lettuce plants in the fall!

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“Bloomsdale Spinach”
2 rows of seeds planted 8/24. Only half the seeds germinated so I consolidated the two rows into one. We harvested the Bloomsdale crinkly spinach leaves all winter. The plants started to bolt May 3rd and I pulled them.

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“Hybrid Smooth Leaf Spinach” 
Seeds planted 10/2 to the right of the Bloomsdale spinach. We continue to harvest this variety now. Note those smooth leaves. Just sayin’.

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Mache (aka Corn Salad)
Seeds planted 10/2. Harvested March-April. Plants started flowering in late April and I pulled them. Mache is a good cold weather lettuce alternative.

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Raised Bed #3, Root Vegetables with Edible Tops
Left to right: Broccoli, beets, turnips, radishes

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“Sparkle” & “Champion” Radishes
Seeds planted on 8/24. The crop failed because radish seeds were planted too close to one another and a ball couldn’t form. I should have thinned them out when they were seedlings. At the time, I didn’t think thinning mattered. I’ve learned my lesson. The same problem happened with the turnips — no ball formation. The crop wasn’t a total failure because I was able to harvest greens from each plant. Yes, you can eat the tops of radishes. Some varieties taste better than others.

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“Purple Top White Globe Turnips”
Seeds planted 8/24 (on left). Started harvesting turnip greens just one month later! As mentioned above, the plant did not form a turnip ball in its root. Instead, the roots were long and thin as in the picture above.

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“Colorful Beet Mix”
Seeds planted 8/24.  None of these plants survived the freeze.

Broccoli
Seedlings planted 10/2. The broccoli did not make it through the freeze.

What I learned
-I now know which plants are the most cold-hardy: spinach, mache (corn salad), green onions, leeks, and carrots. I think the beets, kale*, and garlic could have made it, had I mulched them with straw.

– When you plant tiny seeds, such as radishes and turnips, plant them separately, each a few inches apart, OR, direct seed them haphazardly and thin them as they mature, OR, as The Barefoot Farmer suggested to me, mix them with sand and scatter them in the row.

-Kale* I had a 4th bed with kale in it that I threw a tarp over at the last minute when it turned cold. It didn’t stand a chance with the blue tarp, as the sunlight was totally occluded. This fall, I will do a better job of planning which plants I put under the protective cloths. For example, I’d like to add a few hardy herbs to the mix, such as rosemary, parsley, and sage.

-When I bought the protective cloth, I didn’t plan on the extra amount of cloth it would take to cover the ends of each “tunnel” which was about another six feet of fabric per tunnel. I covered the first two beds just fine, but ran out of fabric by the third tunnel. That last bed, the one with the broccoli, had open ends and nothing survived in it because of the draft. If you are purchasing protective cloth for the winter, remember to add extra fabric for the ends. I bought the ag cloth and hoops, as well as many of the seeds and seedlings, at Gardens of Babylon next to the Farmers Market.

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How cold was it?
Even the eggs froze!

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I harvested this basket of greens on November 12th, the night before our first hard freeze.

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Other Posts About Farming
Spring Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
Family Dirt
Herb Porch Pots!
How to Make Grape Jelly (and grow the grapes)
WWMD? A Bucket of Spring Veggies as a Centerpiece
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)
The Tobacco Barns of Trigg County

 

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs

My high-spirited Great-Aunt Bridget was the original #nofilter. Always, words were coming out of her mouth that caused us to look at one another as if to say, Did she really just say that? She also made a great pot of chicken soup. She was a character. Between the things she said, the clothes she wore, the bouffant hairdos, and the food she cooked, Aunt Bridget was memorable. And, loved. What more could we each want?

Jerome Bridget - Version 2

She and her husband, Uncle Jerome, both immigrants from Sicily, owned successful side by side businesses on Eastern Avenue in Baltimore — Bridget’s Beauty Shoppe and Jerome’s Barber Shop. They created an interior doorway between their adjoining buildings so they and their customers could visit one another all day. It was one big happening place. As a little girl, I loved to sit under the hairdryer hood and basque in the attention of my aunt as she paraded her loyal customers by my chair so they could meet her grandniece.

In this photo from 1963, Aunt Bridget is standing at the forefront of her salon wearing a white uniform and Uncle Jerome is in the back in his barber’s shirt. Aunt Bridget employed a dozen full-time “operators.” They were her girls and they were busy. This was at a time when women went to the beauty parlor weekly to get their hair washed and set. Upstairs from the shop, Aunt Bridget had a kitchen where she and her niece, Theresa, seemingly fed everyone either chicken soup or spaghetti and meatballs.

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One year, in the mid-1970s, I visited my grandparents in Florida during Easter break; so did my Aunt Bridget. In the whirlwind that signaled her arrival from the airport, my aunt walked into the kitchen, opened her purse, and pulled out an “old hen,” complete with its collagen-laden feet. She announced she was going to make a pot of soup. Her nephew had brought her to the Fell’s Point Farmers Market to get the hen on the way to dropping her off at the airport. I regret now that I spent more time rolling my 19-year-old eyes than looking for a pen and paper to write down her recipe. Her soup was the best. I have spent years trying to recreate it.

What was so memorable about Aunt Bridget’s soup was the full-bodied flavor of the broth and the light, bite-sized meatballs that floated on the surface.

In my youthful attempts at recreating her broth, I was left with either perfectly cooked chicken in a thin stock that had to be boosted with a bouillon cube, or great tasting stock with tasteless, limp meat. Eventually, I figured out a way to have both, rich stock and tasty meat. I simmered the soup for sixty minutes, removed the chicken thighs, pulled the meat off the bones, and returned the bones to simmer in the stockpot for a few more hours.

About the Ingredients

My mother taught me to use chicken thighs when making soup. As the mother of seven children, she worried about us choking on small bones so chicken breasts were out. That was okay with me because I like thigh meat.

Bones, cartilage, and connective tissue contain a protein called collagen. As the bones simmer in water, the collagen breaks down, and once chilled, congeal and turn into this gooey gelatin. This gelatin is your goal. If the broth is too dilute, it will not gel up like this.

chicken broth

The aromatic vegetables used to flavor a stock are known as mirepoix (pronounced “MEER-pwah”). The standard French mirepoix consists of 50% onions, 25% carrots, and 25% celery. Other aromatics I use are garlic and parsley.

bridget's chicken soup

First, we will make the broth, then the meatballs, and then add the greens.

To Make the Broth

Chicken stock ingredients:
8 pounds chicken thighs, with skin and bones
5 quarts cold water
1 large unpeeled onion (1 pound), quartered
⅓ head celery, with leaves (½  pound)
4 unpeeled carrots (½ pound)
6 cloves unpeeled garlic (½ ounce)
10 whole stems Italian flat-leafed parsley
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black pepper, or about 20 twists of the pepper grinder
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Yield: 4 quarts of chicken stock

Instructions:
Rinse and drain chicken. Put in a large stockpot.

bridget's chicken soup

Cover with cold water. If you start with hot water, the stock could become cloudy. Bring ingredients to a simmer. Remove foam as it forms.

aunt bridget's chickens soup

Prep the mirepoix: wash unpeeled vegetables and cut into large chunks Add to stockpot. Add seasonings: bay leaves, garlic, parsley, and pepper. I do not add salt until I decide how I’m going to use the broth.

bridget's chicken soup

Add the vinegar. Acids such as vinegar or lemon juice help break down cartilage and pull nutritious minerals like calcium from the bones.

Bring stock to a gentle simmer and cook for 60 minutes. A hard boil will make stock cloudy.

Use a slotted spoon to remove thighs. Once cool, pick off meat and refrigerate.

bridget's chicken soup

Return bones, cartilage, and skin to stockpot. Simmer for 4-5 hours. Strain through a colander positioned over a large container.

To get a couple more cups of flavorful stock, put the solids from the colander back into the stockpot. Add 2 cups of hot water and stir. Run the resulting liquid through the colander again and add to the container of stock. Discard solids.

I strain the stock once more, through a fine sieve, to clarify it further.

Refrigerate stock until fat rises to the top and congeals. Use a spoon to scrape it off.

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To Make the Meatballs

bridget soup

Ingredients:
bridget soup

Yield: 70 small meatballs

1 pound of ground meat. I use a package of combined beef, pork, and veal known as Meatloaf Mix when I can find it.
2 eggs, slightly beaten
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese
¾ cup unseasoned bread crumbs
zest from 1 lemon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
2 tablespoons water

Mise en Place for Meatballs:
Grate the Parmesan cheese.

bridget soup bridget soup

To learn how to make your own bread crumbs, go here, or buy plain, fine bread crumbs.

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Zest a lemon.

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Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix gently until just blended– less than 30 seconds.

meatballs meatballs

Use a melon scoop to make bite-sized meatballs. Place on a 13″ x 18″ rimmed sheet pan. The meat mixture weighed 1½ pounds. From that, I made 70 meatballs. Set aside.

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Prep the Greens

I used spinach because I have so much of it in my garden. Hard to believe the spinach survived this cold weather. Escarole or endive would be other tasty choices. Wash the greens. If leaves are large, chop them.

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Putting It All Together

Ingredients:
4 quarts chicken stock, homemade or boxed
1 pound fresh spinach
About 70 uncooked bite-sized meatballs
1 pound cooked small pasta, such as ditalini, cooked separately

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Bring a pot of chicken broth to a boil. Add the meatballs. Simmer for about 15 minutes.

bridget soup

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the greens.

bridget soup

Serve immediately while greens are still bright. bridget soup

Sprinkle with freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan. If desired, serve over pasta cooked separately. If cooked in the broth, it will soak up most of the liquid.

bridget soup

Postscript
Only the most memorable great-aunts get chickens named after them. Our two Rhode Island Reds were named Bridget and Josephine (sisters of my grandfather). The two blonde Buff Orpingtons were named after my husband’s blonde grandmothers, Mildred and Alice. The two black and white Plymouth Bard Rocks were named after my silver and black-haired grandmothers, Marion and Concetta.
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Other Soups
Chicken Stock from Rotisserie Chicken Bones
Mrs. Lombard’s Portuguese Kale Soup
Pasta e Fagioli
Award Winning Buffalo Chicken Chili
Kelly’s Duck Stew

Other Family Recipes
Baked Ziti with Roasted Eggplant, Mozzarella, and Marinara Sauce
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
Rapini and Fettuccini
Spiralized Zucchini with Fresh Marinara Sauce
Pasta e Fagioli, aka Pasta and Bean Soup
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram @JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.