Secretary of the Interior

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Thursday, September 13, 2012 / 12:00 AM

Diggin' the Dirt: Talking Fall Food Gardens With Jack Petrovic and Nolan Kowalski of Schlafly Gardenworks

Diggin' the Dirt: Talking Fall Food Gardens With Jack Petrovic and Nolan Kowalski of Schlafly Gardenworks

Jack Petrovic and Nolan Kowalski, Schalfly Gardenworks


Right now is a great time to remove your summer garden and put in a fall food garden. Jack Petrovic and Nolan Kowalski, gardeners who run “Gardenworks” at Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, are on top of it.

I have pictures dating back to 2009 of Jack’s amazing Schlafly “Gardenworks” food garden, just east of the restaurant. I can’t remember when we met, but I’ve followed the garden’s progress, and enjoy a lively conversation with this gardener extraordinaire any time I can grab his attention. He can talk about 100 different topics, especially those revolving around plants, gardens, and sustainability. It’s been especially rewarding to see how he has pulled together a gardening community by hosting workshops and impromptu garden tours.

Jack preparing a new bed for lettuce

I approached Jack with hopes of a hot topic. He lit up, saying, “People are afraid to rip out their summer gardens. They just have to do it! Get their fall food garden in the ground now.” I agree—it seems like people are all about the spring and summer seasons, and growing the most infamous tomatoes, basil and cucumbers. By fall and winter, most gardens are filled with the remains of these plants, waiting to be removed for the compost bin. Jack and Nolan are urban food garden pros, and are  inspirational in their enthusiasm and knowledge of what you can do now to get your fall food garden in the ground.

Nolan looking over beds of kale, Swiss chard and collards

Besides the photos and interview on this topic in this article, you can also view Jack and Nolan in videos I took of them in the Schlafly Gardenworks garden. There is also a bonus video of Nolan talking about composting:

Here is a list of easy and delicious fall food plants you can get in the ground now (use seeds, unless indicated otherwise):
Beets (seeds or plants)
Broccoli (plants)
Cabbage (plants)
Collards (plants or seeds)
Garlic (cloves, pointy side up; plant in late October or early November)
Kale (seeds or plants)
Kohlrabi (plants)
Mixed Asian Greens

Inspiration from Jack and Nolan

What do you mean by the “Best Is Yet to Come” in regards to fall food plants?

Jack: The fall crops are the best. When things cool off, they just taste better. Even foods like collards, broccoli and kale, foods most people don’t like, actually sweeten up after a frost. Most of the destructive insects are leaving by now also.

Nolan: As the heat of summer decreases, combined with some steady rains, the conditions for cool-season crops continuously gets better. As opposed to continuously gets hotter and drier, as it does in spring.

What are the benefits of removing your summer food plants?

Jack: You don’t have to look at them anymore. Most are beat up, all haggard, almost finished. Tear them out. Plant something new. Only a few plants do well in the summer. You have a huge variety to choose from for fall.

Nolan: If you intend to have a cool season garden and your beds are occupied by mature summer crops, you have to get them out of the way. They will only continue to decline.

What suggestions can you make to novice gardeners about planting fall food gardens?

Jack: After a hot season, it is a joy to labor in the garden in the fall. The weather is nice and cool. It rains. The plants are happy, the bugs are gone. You’ll finally feel really good out there. Don’t pass that up.

Nolan: Keep seedlings watered early in the fall when there are lingering heat waves. Work with an experienced gardener to time plantings. Don’t become attached to declining summer crops.

If a person has only enough time, money and space to put in three fall or winter crops, what top three would you suggest?

Jack: Salad mix, garlic, kale and carrots. Sorry, that’s four.

Nolan: Spinach (plant in mid-to-late October), garlic (plant in late October to mid-November), and kale.

Schlafly Gardenworks in Maplewood Missouri, early September 2012

What suggestions do you have for advanced gardeners on planting fall food gardens?

Jack: Don’t be afraid to take out your entire summer garden and put in a new one. For all that matter, don’t be afraid to take out your entire spring garden to put in your summer garden. In late fall though, get a roll of No. 9 wire from the farm supply store, and some Agribon. Make some row covers. For years, I used a plastic tarp that worked great. They will last a long time if you just keep the frost off the plants at night.

Nolan: Start cool season crops indoors under lights in late July to early August. Learn to use plastic or Agribon hoop tunnels, or even a hoop house, to extend the season. It becomes easy to overwinter plants like spinach, cilantro, kale, and carrots.

But what if I don’t like foods like collards, beets, kale, kohlrabi, chard, and turnips?

Jack: The only reason we are able to even have this discussion is because your ancestors grew and ate these foods. These are the foods that got whole populations through the winter. You’re going to find out someday that it is not about what you like, it’s about proper nutrition. Take a walk on the wild side. Learn to like them. Many chefs are now learning to prepare these vegetables so [that] you will love them. Children eating this kind of nutrition early in life have a huge advantage over children that don’t. Eat your fall greens..

Nolan: Maybe don’t plant a fall garden then. Grow some lettuce, or plant a couple of fruit trees.

What is your favorite thing about being a gardener at Schlafly Gardenworks?

Jack: Just one thing? Gosh, that’s tough. Restaurant gardening is still very unusual in the U.S. I love the innovative, gutsy approach this company has.  But I’ll say, the interaction I have with so many interesting people. To think I could have missed all this. 

Nolan: I love being supported to create that which creates abundance. Growing your own food is the only thing that seems to make sense anymore. And I have to add, working for a company that puts people and the planet ahead of profits.

Nolan with a bed of Asian Mixed Greens

Beth Gellman, the Garden Coach, is a landscape designer and consultant. Beth works primarily with landscape contractors in Design + Build capacities. Integrating beauty and function with outdoor spaces to create sustainable healthy practices drives her personal and professional life.

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