Thursday, January 10, 2013

Seeds v. Starts 2: Fall planting

Fall is the best time to plant many things in Southern Oregon, including trees, shrubs, perennials, wildflowers and cool-season vegetables. Our relatively mild winters allow roots to grow throughout the winter, and the plants take off in the spring. Many plants drop seed over the summer which comes up in cool, wet fall weather; some seed needs to be stratified over the winter by soaking in cold water, freezing and thawing, so fall scattering results in spring sprouting. It's good to save some fall-sprouting seed for spring, however, as a hard winter can kill seedlings that sprout in the fall.
Here again, seeds are generally superior to starts for vegetables, growing faster and quickly surpassing most started plants. Most sprout readily, except for store-bought seed of cabbage family plants: cabbage; broccoli; cauliflower; and mustard; and spinach family plants: beets; spinach; and chard. Store-bought seed of these plants does not germinate well when broadcast, but seed that forms in your garden or nearby sprouts readily. Started plants rarely grow to full size, unless they are bought exceedingly fresh, before the plants get root-bound. But they are a way to get good seed to start in the following season or year.
Last fall, I special-ordered some Flat Dutch cabbage for making poultices, as most cabbage in stores is too tightly folded to easily make poultices; half the head goes to salad or waste. Some plants grew very well. One of those flowered this spring, but several made large, loose heads this summer instead, and will likely bloom this fall or next spring. It will be interesting to see what the seed from the single early bloomer will do next year: head up or go to seed immediately?
Broccoli starts bought this spring, being focused on flowering, went to seed quickly, too small to make good florets; the seed should make good plants this fall, and florets next spring. Cauliflower didn't make it through the winter. Spring-bought, root-bound Early Jersey Wakefield, a loose cone-head cabbage, is making small heads on small plants, and should bolt and bloom sometime in fall or spring.       
And I discovered something new this spring: cabbage can grow from the core of a head. When I had to make a lot of poultices early this spring, I was left with a lot of tight partial heads that got too old to make sauerkraut, so I threw them in the garden, where they got buried in the leaves I was building beds with. Some grew roots and flowered! When I later got a rare cone head that I could use to the core, I put the fist-sized core with its last few leaves in the mulch, base down, and it grew. I pulled the tight-head plants so they wouldn't breed with the new one. But it didn't bloom, being planted later; it still hasn't bloomed, but it made a little head on one side of the stalk. 

Published at under The Natural Gardener #12.

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