Friday, August 28, 2015

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Inteview with a Veggie Veteran

Scott T., Veggie Guru
As August winds down it may be tempting to think the only thing left to do in the veggie garden is harvest. Don't overlook planting "cool season" crops, says my favorite vegetable collaborator, Scott Thalmann.

Scott is a retired policeman, working at Chalet, 2 suburbs north of Chicago. Scott's recommendations are based on 43 years of experience. His main garden is 28 x 28', with a 6 x 8' plot just outside his back door for easy harvest of salad greens. His vegetable garden was featured in Chicagoland Gardening magazine in 2006. He's been helping aspiring veggie growers at Chalet for the past 14 years. He's responsible for choosing Chalet's vegetable seed selection.

Tony:  It's the end of August, what are you personally harvesting now?
Scott:  Tomatoes, pole beans, zucchini, peppers and chard.

T:  What fall cool season crops do you grow?
S:  We're at September, so with our first frost date bouncing back and forth I tend to play it safe and know I'll be guaranteed a return on lettuce and radishes.

Cool crops
T:  What do you do to prepare for your cool season crops?
S:  I've been adding compost to my garden for so long that I've really changed the structure of my soil. It's    very loamy and rich. So, I have the luxury of just adding a bit of compost to the areas I'm planting.

T:  If someone just started a new veggie plot this spring and are adding compost or dehydrated manure, what  fertilizer would you recommend?
S:  I like Dr. Earth's Tomato, Vegetable & Herb or Espoma's Tomato-Tone.

T:  What fall cool season crops would be easiest for the first time veggie grower?
S:  Spinach, leaf lettuce (not heading varieties) and radishes.

Buttercrunch lettuce and cabbage
T:  For your garden, what is the drop dead date after which you say let's forget seeding _________ for the  year?
S:  End of July: Carrots (must have uniform moisture, especially in heat), broccoli, cauliflower, "early  varieties  of cabbage (if you can keep if going through summer heat).
     Mid-August: Lettuce, spinach, chard, beets, kale
     Mid- September: Radishes, beets (for greens)

Botanical Interests seeds
T:  Brussel sprouts?
S:  They really need all season, even if from transplants.

T: You've been instrumental in bringing different types of garlic to Chalet. I'm not sure new vegetable growers would know that fall is the time to plant.
S:  As you know, I love cooking with garlic. I really like the "hardneck" types.

T:  As someone who goes to any length to avoid turning on a stove (me), what are the basics of garlic  growing?       
S: Typically they're available for sale around September 10. They're very easy to grow. Soil temperature  should be below 60 degrees F. before planting. Incorporate lots of compost so the soil is loose. The day of  planting break the cloves apart and plant individual buds 2-3" deep and 4-6" apart. Water well at the time of  planting. If it's a dry fall water as needed until the ground freezes. As the ground freezes cover with a 12"  depth of leaves or straw.  

T:  Next spring after removing the mulch?
S:  About the time a third of the leaves have yellowed it's time to harvest the cloves (usually mid-June until  the end of July in Chicago). I also cut the flower spikes off as soon as they show (but buds still tight) about  6" down and saute them. Delicious!

T:  Favorite varieties?
S:  'Music' is noted for its large cloves, longevity in storage and cold weather tolerance. I'm also fond of  'Peskem River', which is a great hardneck, too.

T:  If you were coaching someone new to fall veggie gardening, what tips would you offer?
S:  *  Don't be afraid to try things- A packet of seed is not a big investment.
     *  Timing. Keep records from one year to the next and adjust planting dates based on your experience.
     *  I have two red lettuces that I think are well worth trying: 'Marvel of 4 Seasons' and 'Bronze Arrowhead'.  

T: Scott, thanks for sharing your vegetable gardening experience!

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