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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.

Fall Vegetable Gardening

The dire state of the Decatur area's water supply and the resulting water restrictions in the wake of the summer's horrible drought have made writing my column more of a challenge than usual. I feel horribly guilty writing about plants while the majority of my readers are watching their gardens succumb to the drought before their very eyes. As much as I love gardening, this summer has made it tough to be a gardener.

Generally speaking, even in a non-drought year we aren't planting many new things in the garden this time of year. We're just in a pattern of watching and waiting. More and more people are realizing that fall really is a whole other season in which to garden. We are not limited to spring and summer. Given the Decatur area's water restrictions only allow watering of vegetable crops, let's consider what options that leaves for planting a fall garden.

If you want to have a fall vegetable garden, the time to act is now, and your window of opportunity will close soon. If you are a vegetable gardener, mid-July through about mid-August is the time to sow cool weather crops like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower.

Grown from seed these plants need a fairly long growing season to produce a crop, and we are well past the point of planting seeds of these crops for this season. If you find an opportunity to purchase plants for these crops in the near future, it might still be possible to produce a crop this season.

Typically by mid-September our daily high temperatures and more importantly low temperatures have begun to dip low enough to interfere with timely germination of seeds in the garden.

However, this year the forecast is for above-average temperatures to persist well into October. In my opinion, given this forecast of extended above-average temperatures we may have at least until mid-September if not a bit longer to get quick-maturing fall crops planted.

A few suggestions for quick-maturing cool season crops:

  • Lettuce: available varieties have incredible diversity of leaf color and shape. Harvest with scissors to allow for regrowth in between cuttings.
  • Turnip greens: look for the variety 'Seven Top' which only produces greens, and no turnip. Turnips will grow into late fall if they are mulched well.
  • Kohlrabi: leaves may be cooked and eaten, but primarily the above ground, swollen stem portion is the part of this plant that is eaten. Taste is similar to a turnip.
  • Radish: Another crop with incredible diversity of shape and color among available varieties. Radishes will often produce a crop within 30 days or less.
  • Spinach: Plants are very cold tolerant, often weathering temperatures as low as the 20's (?F) I had plants that survived our unusually warm winter last year with the help of a protective row cover

Green beans, though considered a warm season crop, may be planted for fall harvest since they mature quickly. Most varieties of green beans mature in 50 to 60 days, so you may have a shot at harvesting a crop if the weather really does stay unseasonably warm and you get your seeds planted soon.

Root crops such as beets and carrots may be planted in the fall and mulched to keep the plants growing (although slowly) into the early winter months. Beet greens may also be used in salads or cooked.

It is also possible to extend your vegetable gardening season by using floating row cover and cold frames with cool season crops. Both will help hold in the day's heat during chilly fall nights.

Even if you don't consider yourself to be a vegetable gardener, consider the ornamental value of many vegetable crops in the landscape. Whether in a container or planted directly in the ground, many vegetable crops can provide a pop of color in the fall landscape. You may even find yourself wanting to plant more vegetables next year!


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