Fall Crops in Your Vegetable Garden

Kay Hinkle
Adams County Master Gardener

(9/12) If you are like me, you may find the heat and humidity somewhat unbearable this summer. And if your garden is like my garden, the vegetables are not thriving without plenty of additional watering. The spring started out with good, soaking rains, but this year the mid-year "weather" has missed us when it comes to rain. Clouds have gathered, storms were predicted for Lake Meade, but just passed us by.

Our gardens are dependent upon these varying climate conditions and our vegetable gardens produce accordingly. Looking back on previous growing seasons, your summer vegetable plantings may have produced mixed results depending on the weather, and that is something you just canít always predict. We do the best we can with the weather we are given and supplement what we get with what we have. Itís part of the fun of gardening - learning to maximize results in spite of many different variables.

But even in the hottest and driest of summers, we can look forward to fall and know that the cooler temperatures can revitalize our veggie gardens. When some of the early vegetables come out of the ground, leverage the welcome cool weather to produce another wave of tasty garden treats. If you plan well and watch the calendar, you can get even tastier vegetables in the fall for the plants that prefer cooler temperatures. Cool weather gives our gardens a second chance Ė donít miss it!

It is important to identify the projected date of the first killing frost and then back into the last planting date possible. A good resource for this information is the Farmerís Almanac. You may have a copy or want to buy one at a local store in the magazine section. You can also find it online at almanac.com.

Soil prep late in the year is important. Weeds may have taken over and must be removed. Soil may be depleted of important nutrients by the earlier crops, so add nutrients back into the soil with compost.

Choosing the right plants is just as important as good soil preparation. There are plants that mature quickly and can tolerate no frost; think bush beans and herbs such as basil. Others can tolerate a little frost Ė broccoli, collards, kale, peas and spinach Ė tolerating a dip into the 20ís. And some are very tolerant of cold weather. This category of vegetables cannot take the heat but will last into the beginning of a freeze; think Brussel sprouts and turnips. It is important to research these details so that the growing season that remains matches the type of plants you buy. With a little effort, your garden continues to produce through fall, turning it from a 6-month project to one that produces 8-9 months!

If you are sowing seeds in late summer, plant them just a little deeper to mimic a cooler environment. Be sure the soil is in good condition so the seeds sprout easily. And it is even more important this time of year to water well to encourage growth to give the seedlings a good chance of survival. Planting late season crops do not have the benefit of those early spring showers to get them going.

Some other plants not mentioned above should be considered as well: arugula, bok choy, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, leaf lettuce, radishes and Swiss chard are good choices. Just be sure to do your homework to plan for days to germination and harvest dates based on predictions of first frost.

And while we usually think of fall plantings related to vegetables, there is also a list of annuals that love the cooler weather. Pansies are one of my favorites, and sprucing up flower beds at the end of summer with these happy blooms of many colors is a great idea! Ornamental cabbage and chrysanthemums survive the early frosts and come in many sizes and colors. Plant mums this fall and enjoy them for years to come. Dwarf snapdragons serve to perk up a fall garden, if you can find them!

Finally, be patient. If you have chosen the right plants to match the waning season, you can enjoy a second harvest Ė sometimes a third. We canít rush nature, but our patience is rewarded with proper planning and a little help from Mother Nature and the elements. Try fall gardening and enjoy the fruits of your labor a little longer this year. Happy planning and planting, and best of all - munching!

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