September is a month for harvesting, second only to August. With the cooler days and nights and shorter days the spring crops grow with vigor. Some seedlings planted out in April will not be harvested until next month, others planted from seed in May are brought in just before the first frost. Let’s look at the garden from the perspective of the maturity of the plants.
You may be nurturing baby lettuce, carrots, beets, cilantro, chervil and broccoli planted in August. These plants don’t mind the cold and will grow without protection well into October. You may even have tried for a second crop of peas. Rarely have I been successful planting peas in August, but if a have a bare spot of ground, some years I try. Fall babies, unlike spring ones, will need water. It is best to give long, deep drinks every 3 or 4 days or use a drip irrigation system.
The teenagers of September are the smallest group. These plants are ones planted in late June or July. All of the above mentioned babies can be teenagers by now, in addition to some squash and cucumbers and even tomato volunteers. This year for some reason I have many young tulsi (holy basil) plants that sprang up in early August. Many seeds will lie dormant and then when the warmth and moisture are just right, germinate and grow like crazy to catch up with the older siblings.
Most of your garden will be adults by now, producing well and starting to show their age (growing more slowly, some yellow leaves, disease or insects). Peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, beans, broccoli start to slow down a bit. Cabbage planted in the spring will split if not harvested at its prime. The early planted carrots, beets, lettuce, etc. should be nearly all eaten as the crunch of summer salads and tang pickled beets have been enjoyed for months. Basil will be mature by now and should be harvested to freeze or dry. It is very sensitive to the chilly nights ahead. Some vegetables, like kale, collards, rutabagas, can be allowed to grow and harvested after the first frost. They love the chill and the flavor will become milder, the texture more tender. Swiss chard has been harvested for months now and will continue to produce into November. Other crops like sweet potatoes or winter squash and pumpkins, while mature now, are usually harvest just before the first frost or when the nights are consistently below 40. Thank goodness for adults.
The amazing middle agers include those hardy herbs, like parsley and celery, that really are just starting to come into their own, even though they were planted indoors back in February and March. Your perennial herbs, e.g., thyme, oregano, marjoram, chives, tarragon and savory are still growing strong and can be used right until the snow covers them. Dill and fennel are dropping their seeds in September and if you want them for seasoning, be sure to collect them before they all become next year’s crop. It is a good time for you to watch other plants that are going to seed and decide if you want more next year. Lambs quarters that you have been enjoying all summer will quickly produce seed clusters. A relative of quinoa, these green seed heads can be steamed or sautéed with the leaves. They are tender, tasty and nutritious. Another friendly weed that is going to seed in September is amaranth. The seed heads are not as tasty, but can be allowed to mature and gathered to grind into a high protein flour (if you are very patient). Garlic chives are a wonderful plant that is in full bloom now. The MANY seeds germinate well and it is a good practice to cut the flowers before they drop the seeds since the plant is a perennial and also multiplies at the base.
As you look over your garden, there will be some bush beans that are loosing their leaves, potato vines that have withered, lettuce gone to seed, cauliflower standing headless and without new growth. Some of your broccoli with have ever diminishing side sprouts and it is time consuming to pick. Some summer squash and determinate tomatoes will also begin to slow way down and start being hosts to disease or insects. These old folks are ready to join the spring peas and carrot tops on the compost pile. Keeping the garden cleaned up during September will not only make clean-up easier after the frost but also reduce pests next year.
September is a “frost watch” month like May. We occasionally get through October without a killing frost, so it is important to watch the weather as the nights get chillier. Often a little protection will give you several addition weeks of production.
As the bugs diminish and the temperature comes down, September shapes up to be a very enjoyable gardening month. Surrounded by plants of all ages, producing and promising harvest, being in your garden couldn't be more satisfying.