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Kitchen Gardening

Preparing Your Garden For Fall

As the summer heat is (slowly) winding down, excitement is building for the best gardening season of the year. Here’s how to get ready for it.

  • Photo/Illustration: Greg Holdsworth (all photos)
  • Have a spot set aside to collect valuable fall dried leaves.
  • There is no "bad" time to start a compost pile, but fall may be a little easier.
  • Fall is a great time to start new garden beds.
  • Carrots, my favorite root crop, are one of the fall headliners. The winter will sweeten 'em up.

Remember that part in the movie where the hero is down and out, but then he catches a second wind and comes back at the end? That’s how I sometimes feel right about now as a gardener. I’ve been doing something since the week after Christmas. The spring growing season came, then concluded, then the two and a half month hell we call summer here in north Texas set in. It’s now mid-August, and I’m catching my “second gardening wind” as we finally arrive at our fall season (unofficially). Although they still might bake during the day, seeds and/or transplants for a few veggies can be planted this month. Depending on where you live, your fall planting times will arrive within the next few weeks. So to be prepared and ready for it, here are some things that come to mind.

Timing & Rotation

Timing is very critical when it comes to having a successful fall vegetable garden. In the spring, you had to ask yourself, “how big of a gambler am I?” The goal was to plant seeds and transplants out as early as possible, so the crops could be harvested early, or before the rough summer heat and drought conditions hit. This was at a cost, however, because you ran the risk of a late spring freeze destroying everything. In the fall, however, it’s similar; only now you’re trying to get the harvest done in time before the cold winter weather hits.

As the day’s length is getting shorter, it generally takes longer in the fall for veggies to mature. To compensate for this, add a week or two to the number of days to maturity that’s listed on seed packets. You may also want to consider varieties that mature in a shorter number of days. And of course, don’t plant the same family of vegetables in the same spot as they were in the spring (or even last fall).

Seed Starting

If you are planning on doing your own transplants from seed, you might need to start the seeds indoors. Many veggie seeds will germinate better in an air-conditioned house or apartment than outside. If you are sowing your seeds directly outdoors, you may want to plant them a little deeper than you would in the spring, as the soil is typically moister and cooler deeper down. Tip: soak larger seeds such as peas and beans overnight between two damp paper towels. Covering smaller seeds with a light layer of mulch (chopped-up grass clippings or leaves) will also help. If you opt not to do seeds, you can save some time by planting transplants if they’re available.

Clean ‘Em Up & Pull ‘Em Out

It’s time to go through your beds and do a quick cleanup of any dried, dead, diseased or already-harvested plants. Do not throw diseased plants in your compost pile. Weeds would love to steal moisture and nutrients from your fall veggies, so they gotta go before seeds drop.

Get Your Bed(s) Made

Fall is the perfect time to add compost or amendments to your garden beds. You’ll need to replenish the nutrients and organic matter in your soil that the spring plants used. This will help feed the microbes in your soil, which will in turn, feed your plants. You can add a top dressing of organic fertilizer or simply mix it in.

Watering

Watering is very important to keep your vegetable plants well hydrated during the hot summer months (even into September). The general rule-of-thumb is an inch of water a week. Dry soil can discourage microbial activity, which you don’t want to have happen.

If you direct-sowed seeds, you may want to water them daily until they germinate. Once the seedlings or transplants are established, it’s better to give them one deep watering a week than several lighter waterings. I would also recommend watering empty garden beds you may have. This can make a significant difference with germination. Once the seedlings have become established, mulch to maintain consistant moisture.

Pests & Diseases

One disadvantage of planting seeds or plants in the summer, is that pests and diseases have probably already set up camp in your garden. In spite of the heat, you have to remain vigilant and observe your plants daily. Deal with pests and diseases very quickly to minimize any damage.

What to Plant

Many of these veggies do better in increasingly cooler weather, and can even taste sweeter than those same ones grown in the spring.

Greens: Lettuce, arugula, kale, mustard, spinach, Swiss chard, et al.
Roots: Carrots, beets, turnips and radishes.
Cabbage family: Cabbage, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, et al.
Onion family: Green onions or leeks.

Fall is also the time to plant garlic, but you won’t harvest it until the following summer.

Other Projects

If you have beds/areas that you won’t be putting fall veggies in, planting a cover crop there is a great idea that will definitely improve the soil by spring planting time.

If you haven’t built a compost bin or pile yet (what are you waiting for?), now’s the time. You may still have green grass clippings coming from your yard, and you’re probably only weeks away from getting the first fall leaves.

 

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