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Green thumbs can keep a healthy hobby thriving by cultivating hearty greens and other autumnal gems

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Leigh Geschwill of F&B Farms and Nursery shows some colorful Swiss Chard starts, which is among the many green starts that can be planted in early autumn and harvested throughout much of the fall season. For devoted green thumbs who can't quite sate their gardening itches over the course of a spring/summer season, the Willamette Valley is a perfect place to live.

The relatively mild climate of this region spots a rich opportunity to remain active in the soil through much of the autumn season, maintaining a colorful patch beyond even the Great Pumpkin's Halloween departure with various greens and edible ornamentals.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Lettuce and kale grow well in the fall during the Willamette Valleys relatively long growing season.

"We get such a long growing season in the fall in this area, really," said Leigh Geschwill, owner of F&B Farms and Nursery in Woodburn. "It usually doesn't start getting heavy frosts until late November."

Oregon State University Extension Service has monitored gardening proclivities in the area for decades and researched and registered information to suit those tastes for years. The Extension periodically updates the material it provides for gardeners, but many of the tried-and-true gardening patterns and tips remain as current as the climate.

"Home gardeners in the Willamette Valley have a variety of ways to produce greens well into September, October and November, rather just than planting in the spring and having them in June, July and August," said Victoria Binning, OSU Extension's agriculture program coordinator.

A staggered planting yields greens through the first frosts, and even beyond that for some of the heartier greens. PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Leigh Geschwill of F&B Farms and Nursery said a wide variety of plants are in demand during Willamette Valleys autumn season, including this order containing a variety of greens and ornamental peppers.

On caveat that Binning advises is that it's wise to nourish the soil, especially if you had a nitrogen-consuming crop in the ground during the peak season. Extension resources note that it is always a good idea to add compost and keep a healthy loam through the rotation.

Another tip for getting mileage out of your fall greens is to give them a good head start.

Geschwill walks through a greenhouse flourishing with in-demand plants for this time of the year, and many of those are greens. She said at home her own garden tends to yield barbecue bounties during the summer months and a selection of soup veggies in the fall.

"Many of these (sturdier) greens are really good for soups; all the kales and the chard, those are hearty and keep growing back when you cut them," Geschwill said, showing how Kale does best when cut around the edges. "They can keep growing through the fall season and even through some of the light frosts."

But to ensure that autumnal endurance, a little summer training is in order.

"You don't want to start the plants from seed at this point," Geschwill cautions. "You can start the greens as late as July or August, but you want a strong start (growing) before putting it in the ground."

Among the other fall-thriving garden plants are onions, garlic and even ornamental peppers.

"Fall is the perfect time to plant alliums: onions, garlic, shallots…it may be a bit early to plant leeks, but you can do it," Binning said. "September and October is when you start planting over-wintering onions…and garlic. You can plant garlic from the bulb, just snap off those cloves (and plant them).

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Ornamental peppers, which are edible and quite spicy, are among the plants often in demand during the fall.

"But since it is growing it over the winter, you want to make sure they are juvenile plants," she added. You don't want a full-fledged plant that's going to freak out and try to seed before winter.

Binning said some garlic can be ready as early as March, and there is a considerable window for harvesting the alliums in the spring and summer.

There are some colorful cabbage plants that, just like lettuce, like the cooler autumn temperatures. But perhaps no plant in demand during the fall brings more color than the ornamental peppers, striking with a brilliant red, yellow and a dab of orange spearing out of a deep, dark-leaf green base.

Yes, they are for looks. But if you like a bit of zing in, say, your soup, they can be more.

"Ornamental peppers are edible, and most tend to be pretty spicy," Geschwill said.

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- Fall into Gardening set for Oct. 5

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