Summer's the Perfect Time to plant fall vegetables
Summer feels like peak season in the vegetable garden, when tomatoes, squash, and other warm-season plants abound. However, plenty of fall vegetables are planted to make your garden productive. If you plan to start planting in late summer, you can extend your garden-fresh produce harvest into fall and even winter by growing cool-season crops. For example, try planting fast-growing salad crops to quickly fill more messy summer vegetable beds. And many other sweet root crops, such as beets and carrots, and cabbage relatives, such as cabbage, will continue to grow for several weeks beyond the first frost. These tips will help you beat the summer heat and fill your table with plenty of homegrown goodness.
It's all about timing
The secret to growing an abundance of fall vegetables is timing. That means thinking a bit differently because you have to plan backward. Start with the average first fall frost date for your area. Look at the number of days to harvest the fall vegetables you want to grow. You can find that number on the seed packet or table description. Use the days to gather count to count back from the first frost date. Then add a couple of weeks because many fall vegetables grow more slowly as the days shorten in the fall.
Here's an example: If your first fall frost usually occurs on October 31st, if you want to grow 'French Breakfast' radishes that mature in about 25 days, plant them on September 22nd. However, in zones 8-10, snow is rare. As a challenge, you can plant fall vegetable crops in late December.
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Prepare the garden
Prepare your garden for planting fall vegetables. First, remove diseased tomatoes, heat-scorched peas, or already-harvested garden crops (for example, sweet corn). Next, pull any weeds so they don't steal moisture and nutrients from your new young plants. Finally, take advantage of the open planting bed to incorporate a 2- to 3-inch-layer of well-rotted compost to get your fall vegetables off to a good start.
Start from seed
You can grow most vegetables for your fall garden from seed. Use extra seeds you didn't plant in the spring or buy new ones. If you start your seeds outdoors, plant them a little deeper than you would in the spring; The soil is generally moist and cool.
Experimental Garden Tip: If you live in a hot summer climate, start seeds of your favorite cool-season vegetables indoors. Many people do better with air conditioning than with heat. The basics of starting with seeds are the same in the fall as in the spring: use a high-quality seed-starting mix for the best results. If you're reusing seed containers in the spring, wash them with 1 part bleach to 10 parts water to kill any lurking pathogens.
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Autumn garden care
It is essential to keep your vegetable plants well watered during the hot months of July, August, and September. A general rule of thumb is that most fall garden vegetables do best with about an inch of water per week. Once your seedlings or transplants are established, aim for one deep watering per week rather than several light waterings.
Your garden may already have pests and diseases, so keep an eye out for holes or spots on plant leaves. Treat pests and diseases promptly to minimize damage.
Extend your growing season into the fall by protecting your plants from frost. Cover the garden with an old sheet, blanket, tarp, or row cover during frost.
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Crops for a quick harvest
Get the last burst out of your vegetable patch with fall vegetables that go from seed to table in 40 days or less. Springers like arugula, mustard, spinach, turnips, and crisp red radishes planted in September are ready to harvest within a month. Also, try beautiful Asian greens like tatsoi or mizuna, which grow so fast that three weeks after planting you'll have baby plants to add to stir-fries and soups.
The hardiest fall vegetables, spinach, and kale, often grow well in early winter. Stop harvesting leaves when freezing weather approaches. If protected by a snow blanket or plastic tunnel, spinach will survive the winter and produce sweet leaves first in the spring.
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Best fall garden vegetables
Many fall garden vegetables thrive in cooler temperatures. Given some protection, trust them to survive light frosts. When buying seeds for fall vegetables, choose varieties with shorter seed-to-harvest times. In zones 8-9, where temperatures rarely drop below 20˚F, many deciduous vegetables will grow through the winter.