Plant Now for a Bigger Fall Harvest
Keep the fresh produce coming throughout fall with some mid-summer plantings. Look for vacant spaces left in the vegetable garden after harvesting lettuce, spinach and other early maturing crops. Expand your search to other plantable spaces in flowerbeds, mixed borders and containers.
Sow seeds of beans, cucumbers, carrots, beets and other short season vegetables. Simply count the number of days from planting to the average first fall frost in your area. You’ll find frost dates for your location on the internet, extension publications and other gardening resources. Next check the back of the seed packet for the number of days needed from planting until harvest. As long as you have enough time for the seeds to sprout, grow and produce before the first frost, they can be added to the garden.
Some plants like collards, kale and broccoli tolerate, and even taste better, after a light freeze. This makes them great choices for a fall-harvested garden. Some garden centers sell transplants of these and other vegetables suitable for summer planting. Check the plant tags for the number of days needed for transplants to grow and start producing.
Extend the harvest season by providing frost protection in the fall. Cold frames and cloches (mini greenhouses for individual plants) create a frost-free environment for the plants. Vent them on warm sunny days and close the lids when frost is in the forecast.
Or try floating row cover fabrics designed to let air, light and water through to the plants while protecting them from frost. Loosely cover the plants with the fabric and anchor the edges with stones, boards or landscape pins. Just lift to harvest, recover and leave in place until the harvest is complete or temperatures drop below what the row cover and plants can handle.
Wait for the soil to cool before planting lettuce, spinach, and other vegetable seeds that require cooler temperatures to germinate. Increase germination by planting the seeds as directed, water them in, and cover the row with a wooden lath to keep the soil cooler. Remove the lath as soon as the seeds sprout. Or start the plants indoors and move them into the garden as transplants. Then help keep the soil cool throughout the remainder of summer by mulching with shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic mulch.
Increase the health and productivity of your second planting by preparing the soil before planting seeds and transplants. Mix an inch of quality compost like Hsu Leaf Compost (hsugrowingsupply.com) or Bovine Basics into the top six inches of soil. You’ll improve drainage in heavy soil, increase water retention in fast draining sandy soils and add micronutrients that feed the soil-building microorganisms.
Once your seeds and transplants are in the ground, be sure to water properly. Keep the seedbed and roots of transplants moist the first few weeks. Gradually reduce watering frequency as seedlings sprout and grow and transplants become established. Most plants need about an inch of water each week. Water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil are crumbly and slightly moist. Adjust your watering schedule based upon your weekly rainfall, soil type and air temperatures.
Keep weeding and tending your garden throughout the remainder of the growing season. You’ll keep your plants healthy and reduce weed and pest problems this year and next.
Take full advantage of your garden by continually harvesting vegetables when they are ripe. You’ll have a bigger harvest of great-tasting, nutrition-packed vegetables to enjoy throughout the fall.
By Melinda Myers, who has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener’s Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Hsu Growing Supply for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ web site is www.melindamyers.com.