October in the garden – chard, kale, and beets

October in the garden – chard, kale, and beets

This weekend I transplanted my seedlings of kale. The chard and beets were planted last week, they were doing famously until Sunday morning when my neighbor’s dog had a romp across the garden. He’s still a puppy and thought it was great fun to leap over and into the rows of new veggies. Unfortunately he is a BIG puppy with BIG feet. I righted the chard and hope it will re-root itself. Think I will run out and check on them…whew! Looking ok so far, maybe the damage won’t be permanent. I had removed the wire baskets because the plants were getting bigger but have now covered them back up.

Did you know you could successfully plant beets from transplants? I’m trying it this year for the first time and will let you know how it turns out. The baby seedlings are so vulnerable to pests of all kinds. Starting them on my deck allows me keep an eye on them.

Chard, some leaves trampled by the romping dog

Chard, some leaves trampled by the romping dog

Young kale plants

Young kale plants

Chard and beets are members of the Goosefoot family. Open up a leaf and it does resemble the tracks left in the dirt by a goose’s foot. Another interesting fact about chard and beets is their lumpy seeds are several seeds stuck together; as many as three plants may grow from each one. Once the seedlings are transplanted and established in the garden, I thin them to the strongest plant. The trimmings are wonderful added to a salad.

To get back to the kale…it’s a member of the cabbage family along with broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, arugula, radishes and watercress (plus many more). I was surprised to see arugula and watercress in there! I planted a couple of kinds of kale, Delaway and Lacinato. Delaway is an Irish heirloom, it’s has long flat leaves resembling collards. It’s a first for me, planted in honor of one of my first blog readers in Ireland. Isn’t it wonderful how our words can be shared all over the world? Lucinato is also call Tuscan Black or cavolo nero. It’s an Italian heirloom, which has heavily crimped leaves. It’s a favorite of one of my gardening buddies, the young man who lives across the street. He likes it baked as kale chips.

Laurie O'Neill

Old wire shelves from an Ikea dresser initially cover the transplants. It’s not fancy but effectively keeps the birds, deer, and monster cat from pulling out the plants before they have a chance to root deeply. They also deter romping dogs.

All those trimmings of chard, beet, and kale leaves are wonderful tossed into a fall salad. I’ve also been enjoying the first lettuce from the garden. In the summer I don’t bother with lettuce as they bolt too quickly in the heat. It’s a treasure hunt to discover what can be added to the salad bowl to create a tasty mix.

Cook's Garden Alfresco Mix

Cook’s Garden Alfresco Mix

Perennial arugula, nasturtiums, fava beans

Perennial arugula, nasturtiums, fava bean

Salad pickings from the garden

You need a great basic vinaigrette with this salad. Don’t overwhelm the leaves. Sometimes I just use a squeeze of lemon, splash of olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss with your clean hands.

October in the garden – cabbage family (broccoli and cauliflower)

October in the garden – cabbage family (broccoli and cauliflower)

On August 7th I planted seeds for several types of broccoli, cauliflower, beets, kale and chard. These are the staples (along with lettuce and onions) of my fall and winter garden. They were seeded in flats on my back deck so I could keep an eye on them. I covered them with a plastic lid to keep a constant moisture level. Once the first leaves emerged I removed the cover. You can see from the picture below that the seeding flats are recycled plastic containers from the grocery store. I punched holes in the bottom, then set them in a shallow pan with water or on part of a commercial seed starting system. I’ve used the APS system for seed starting from Gardener’s Supply. It includes a tray as a water reservoir, a rack, a heavy duty fabric capillary mat, planting cells, and a greenhouse cover. I’ve found the included planting cells are too shallow for most vegetables (ok for lettuce). However the other parts of the system are very helpful in maintaining the consistent moisture required for seed germination. They are especially valuable if you will be away for a few days or get busy and forget your seeds. Your baby seedlings are kept safe from pests and disease when they are the most vulnerable.


IMG_2016Once the young plants had a set of true leaves (the first leaves to emerge are called cotyledons and are not representative of the leaves you will see later), they were ready for the garden. I transplanted them into the garden at the end of September. They will do fine over the winter even with a light frost.

The broccoli and cauliflower went into one of my raised beds. Because there were previously tomatoes in that location, I added quite a bit of compost and organic fertilizer. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and deplete the soil of nutrients. Onions are good companion plants for the cabbage family. There are chives at one end of the bed and I planted some scallions between the young plants. Thyme and lemon verbena are at the other end of the bed, the aromatic herbs are reported to deter cabbage worms which have been a problem in the past. I tossed in a handful of yellow nasturtium seeds, they are a decoy for black aphids. I’ve noticed that black aphids like chives as well, maybe they will leave my broccoli and cauliflower alone this year!

Cole transplants

Broccoli and cauliflower transplants

You can see the last of my tomato plants in the raised bed behind, I can’t bear to pull them out yet as there are still some green ones on the vines. Their time is limited though as that bed is scheduled to be planted with peas.

I need to protect my plants from deer that love to lunch in my garden (not to mention the birds and squirrels and the monster cat), I covered the young plants with some wire screening left over from another project.


It’s not too late for you to plant cauliflower and broccoli (or chard and kale) in Northern California; but you will need to buy the small plants at your local nursery as 6-packs. Avoid the ones with roots coming out of the bottom. And don’t bother with Brussels sprouts, see my note below. There will be more on chard, kale and beets in my next post.

A note on Brussels sprouts: you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned them yet, although they are one of my favorites. Brussels sprouts need five months from the time they are seeded to the time they are ready to harvest around December 1st. That means seeding no later than May 15th and planting in the garden by July 1st. In May they are not anywhere on my radar. And in July, I am enjoying the glory of the first tomatoes. My first thoughts of Brussels sprouts occur in October with Thanksgiving on the horizon. What to do? I buy those beautiful stalks at the farmer’s market. They are almost as good as home grown.