WICHE: Plan a fall vegetable garden

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Weather is shaping up to allow for a good crop.

All right, I know, this last week already felt like fall, but it really is only the end of August. This year may just be the perfect year to pull off the perfect fall garden as a result. Ample moisture and relatively mild temperatures mean that a second round of planting for a fall garden can get a good start.

The challenge with the fall garden is getting seed and seedlings to germinate and grow during the heat of the end of summer. If we stay mild, we have a better chance!

I have garden room to replant now that the potatoes, leeks and onions have been harvested. All the debris has been removed and the soil turned with additional compost (remember that every chance you have to add compost will improve your soil thus improving the crop).

If temperatures turn really hot again (which looks unlikely for now, at least), consider shading the bed before planting, as well. Many seeds will not germinate if the soil temperature is above 85 degrees.

I have found that shading the soil with an old window screen or row cover can cool the soil enough for pea, lettuce and spinach seeds to germinate. Keep the shade in place as long as you can; it will also help keep the seed bed evenly moist and keeps deer and rabbit from grazing when you’re not looking.

When it comes to a second round of summer crops, success really depends on how the rest of the season plays out. Beans, squash and cucumbers can be seeded directly into the garden, but if the weather turns cool earlier in the fall, then the harvest likely will be thin.

For the fall garden I usually focus on the crops that like it cool. Cole crops such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are perfect for the fall garden because they prefer mild weather conditions.

However, put out seedlings instead of direct seeding. Germination is tricky now, and a timely harvest is unlikely unless you have small plants to work with. A shade here can get things established earlier, as well, but I doubt that we will need this device so much this year.

A sure second crop from seed – and some that can be left in the garden to mature despite cooler temperatures – include kale, Swiss chard, turnips, radish, carrots and beets. All will germinate now and persist easily into early winter.

In fact, I have left carrots in the ground well into winter, letting the garden be a natural root-cellar, harvesting the carrots as needed. Setting out another round of onion sets and seed potatoes can yield some nice produce by late fall, as well.

Another strategy to employ involves some creative uses for old storm windows. Build a little cold frame so that the spinach and lettuce crops can last well into winter. A simple cold frame can be built using straw bales or old concrete blocks or bricks for the sides and a storm window set at an angle toward the south to capture the warming rays of the sun.

A little ventilation is good because you don’t want to bake the greens on a sunny day….and do be mindful of the weather so the lid can be lifted up or down accordingly.

We built a moveable frame out of 2x6s that I can pick up and move wherever I want. Once it is in place, I can cover it with an old trellis that we have covered in heavy plastic secured with staples. This will allow me to grow greens well into winter.

I plan to extend my harvest as late as possible, but if all else fails, at least I know I’ll have the parsnips. They are always the last thing to be harvested because they need some chilling to reach their peak flavor.

They are not ready until we have experienced at least three hard freezes; the cold turns the starch to sugar in these root vegetables, making them so delicious dug fresh from the garden.


Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.