The Urban Gardener: goodbye to fruits of summer, hello fall plantings

Summer is almost over and I feel like it was just starting. It has been an odd year for my garden. My garden notebook confirmed that everything has been ripening about a month later this year than last year. Yet, I was able to coax some goodies from my plot. I even managed to grow an early variety of musk melon, although it took a few attempts. The seeds on the bathroom windowsill, which I lovingly cared for while brushing my teeth every morning, did not survive the transplant to the garden.

I then tried direct seeding under a handmade dome of wire and perforated plastic. I kept the seeds under cover until July, when the vines looked like they were itching to crawl free. The melons looked like large kiwi fruit when they were young, but now have the recognizable netting over their skin. I have been eyeing the largest of the melons, scared to pluck it from its vine, lest I bring it home before it has developed the sweet flavor I have been imagining.

At the Edmonds’ farmers market this weekend, I stopped by the Master Gardener booth to ask advice about when to pick the melon. Both the Master Gardeners were surprised that I could grow a melon in our cool summer, and had to consult reference books for an answer. I was told years ago that melons do not sweeten further after picking, they only get softer. The Master Gardener at the booth wasn’t sure that this was true, so I double checked today. According to the University of Illinois extension program, the wisdom I was given years ago is correct: sugars are stored in the melon until the point of separation from the vine. Apparently, I am to wait until I can smell the sweet fragrance and it slips easily from the vine when I tug. Once it’s ready, I plan to sit on the grass with a spoon and enjoy my melon with my eyes closed.

Local meteorologist Cliff Mass confirms what everyone knew — that June was markedly cooler than usual, a full 5.5 F degrees cooler than last year. He says on his blog that “Junuary” 2010 was the fifth coldest in the last 54 years. This explains why the garden was so slow to take off and know why everything is ripening so late.

I checked in with the gardeners at Seattle Tilth to find out what they are doing for their fall garden right now. Although the time has passed for planting most fall crops from seed, they say that now is a great time to get winter vegetable starts in the ground. They recommend the organic vegetable starts grown by Rent’s Due Ranch and sold by PCC.

Sherri, from Tilth’s Garden Hotline, says that fall crops to be planted now and harvested in spring include beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, winter Brussel sprouts, garlic, early season cabbages, broccoli, kale, and shallots. Items to be planted now to harvest before winter include hearty lettuces, mustard, kohlrabi and most greens. She also reminded me that now is an excellent time to plant cover crops, like field peas or crimson clover. Sherri, and other knowledgeable garden helpers, can be reached through the Garden Hotline website or by email at

– By Lara Alexander, My Edmonds News gardening columnist. For more gardening tips and recipes, visit her foodandsoil blog.

  1. Lara – thanks for another timely article. As I look out my back window at my “almost but not quite ready” summer crops, it’s hard to admit that the summer really is winding down. Really had high hopes for a big tomato crop like last year.

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