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Fall Vegetable Gardening

Posted: August 15, 2011

Come the dog days of August, the vegetable garden may resemble a bedraggled mutt. The lettuce bolted weeks ago, the peas are finished, the potatoes are dying down, and the weeds may be flourishing like fleas on a dog. Your gardening spirit may be equally flagging; what’s a gardener to do?
Decorative Vegetable Gardening

Decorative Vegetable Gardening

Think ahead to the cool crisp days of autumn and plan a fall vegetable garden – now’s the time to get started. Harvesting fresh produce from the garden well into fall and even winter is not only satisfying, it’s healthy and it saves on food costs.

Here are some tips for planning and planting a fall vegetable garden now:

  • Vegetables that are semi-hardy or hardy are the best choices, as they will tolerate light to hard frost. These include leafy greens such as leaf lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard; cabbage family members such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, and cabbage; and root vegetables such as radish, carrot, turnip, beet, and parsnip.
  • Choose varieties of these crops that are noted for cold hardiness and quick maturity (fewest days to harvest). This information will be listed on the seed packet or in the seed catalog. However, the selection of seeds available for planting now is more limited than in spring.
  • Transplants of some cool-season crops, such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, may be available now at some garden centers. Using transplants provides more time for the plants to mature. Be sure you are selecting edible, and not ornamental, varieties of cabbage and kale.
  • Timely planting is the key to a successful harvest. Crops need sufficient time to grow and mature before the weather becomes too cold to continue growth. The average first frost date for this region is sometime around October 20. Using the days to maturity, count back from this date to figure the approximate date for planting. Add another two weeks to account for the “Fall Factor” – the fact that plants grow more slowly during cooler weather and shorter days.
  • To prepare an area in the garden for fall planting, clear it of spent crops and weeds. To restore nutrients used up by previous crops, add a thin layer of compost or aged manure. You may also apply a complete fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden. Spade in or lightly till the area; excessive tilling can destroy soil structure and increase surface soil crusting.
  • Soil in the late summer is often hot and very dry, not good for seed germination. Moisten the soil lightly a day or two before planting. Plant the seeds slightly deeper than recommended for spring planting. Once planted, water them in thoroughly, and then use a light mulch or covering of vermiculite or compost to prevent soil crusting. You can also shade the soil with boards to keep it cool and moist until the seeds germinate.
  • For newly emerged seedlings and transplants, use mulch such as straw or dry grass clippings to keep the soil moist and cool. It’s important, though, that the plants get as much sunlight as possible, so be sure the mulch is covering the soil and not engulfing the young plants.
  • Keep the seedlings and transplants well watered. Most vegetables need an inch of water per week to grow well. Less frequent, deep watering is preferable to daily light watering; but these young plants may need more frequent, light watering during the hot days of August until their roots are established.
  • Even after the first frost, we often have several weeks of “Indian summer” weather which is ideal for cool-season crops. Be prepared to provide some frost protection, using a thicker layer of mulch or row covers, so that you can continue to harvest even after several frosts.

With these tips in mind, you can be harvesting produce from your garden long after the last tomato of the season. How about fresh greens from the garden on Thanksgiving?