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Plan a fall vegetable garden

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By Jeneen Wiche

I am planting a fall garden for sure this year. The current one is a flop so it is time to start over!

The challenge with a fall garden is getting seed and seedlings to germinate and grow during the heat of the end of summer. If temperatures moderate, we have a better chance at success. Planting beds are ready since the potatoes have been harvested — and the rotten onions removed. All the debris has been removed and the soil has been prepared with additional compost. Remember that every chance you have to add compost, do so, because it will improve your soil, thus improving the crop. 

If temperatures turn really hot again — which is likely — consider shading the bed prior to 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, the harvest will likely be thin. 

For the fall garden, I usually focus on the crops that like it cool. Cold crops like 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.

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 to recover from my earlier failed harvest should 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 moved up or down accordingly. 

We built a moveable frame out of 2-by-6s that I can pick up and move where ever 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 cold frame can go where ever I chose and will allow me to grow greens well into winter. 

I plan on extending my harvest as late as possible since summer yields were so poor.