neighborhood garden for july 31, 2004


now is the time to plant A FALL garden

by george edgar  

          Many are tired of working in their garden by fall but some of us look forward to extending the growing season.  If you would like to have a fall garden with fresh lettuce and spinach for your salad, or to have fresh beans, beets, or carrots to serve you family, now is the time to plant.  You still have time to plant bush beans, beets, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, okra, peas, radish, spinach, swiss chard, and turnips.  We always have a fall planting of lettuce and spinach, and with a little protection on cold fall nights, it will grow for some time. 

          Some years we have a specialty lettuce plant (Mache) that grows all winter in a protected area and if left alone after picking in the spring, reseeds itself.  We cover it with an old broken “sneeze guard” from a salad bar on cold fall nights and then for most of the winter.  It, and the fall planted spinach are the first crops out of our garden in the spring.

          When planting a fall garden the last of July or first part of August, the application of a light mulch will help cool the soil and aid in germination.  Some gardeners pre-sprout their seeds indoors.  Sprinkle the seeds between moist paper towels, roll up, and place in a plastic bag. Check the seeds daily.  Plant the pre-germinated seeds as soon as possible after sprouting, allowing the roots to grow no longer than ¼ inch.  When planting in the garden, take care not to damage the tiny plants.  If planting seeds outside, the soil surface should be roughed up to aid in seedling breakthrough. 

          According to a publication from Earl May Nursery and Garden Centers, “A must for planting a garden in midsummer is moisture.  Hot, dry soil can delay germination if the soil is not kept moist after planting.  Planting the seeds deeper than usual is also an advantage.  This puts the roots nearer to the ground moisture down near the roots.”

           “When the new crop is planted in the heat of the summer, it may take more care in the beginning, but the harvest of fresh produce in the fall will be worth it.  Crops mature in the cooler fall weather creating tastier vegetables than in the spring.”

          When selecting and buying seeds for your fall garden, select the shortest season cultivars available to insure harvest before a killing frost arrives.  Look for cultivars labeled “early season”, or are located in a section for “Fall Garden” or labeled as such.  You can also compare the number of days to harvest.  This number is usually printed on the seed packet or in the cultivar description in seed catalogs.  For example, the leaf lettuce we usually plant in the spring and in the fall is labeled as ready in 46 days.  This means from planting to first harvest is usually 46 days.  The nice thing about lettuce and spinach is you can cut it off instead of pulling up the plant and it will grow back for a second and sometimes third cutting. The spinach we usually plant is labeled as ready in 42 days.  My favorite radish is ready in 27 days to they can be planted anytime between the lst of August and the first couple weeks in September.  To extend your radish crop, plant a short row every week in August rather than planting a long row all at once. 

          The usual first frost (when the temperature gets to 32 degrees F) in Lincoln is about October 7th or l0th or 15th, depending upon who you talk to or what book you read.  The latest it has reached 32 degrees is November 7th. The median date for the first hard freeze (temperature reaches 28 degrees F. or lower) is October 21st.  Quite often there is a warm period after the first frost that allows your fall garden to grow some more.    

          To determine if you can plant a particular vegetable and have a crop before frost, take the date of the usual first frost, subtract the number of days the package says between planting and harvest, and that gives you the latest planting day. It is best to allow an extra week or two, as many crops grow slower in the cooler nights of September.

           The following vegetables can be planted in the fall and are considered as tender.  That is, they will be damaged by a light frost of 30 to 32 degrees F:

          Beans           Cucumber            Eggplant               Okra 

The following vegetables can be planted in the fall and are “semi-hardy”. That is they can tolerate a light frost:

          Beets                     Chinese Cabbage            Leaf Lettuce                  Mustard                Cauliflower                      Spinach

          Swiss Chard

The vegetables listed below can stand several frosts, but are killed when temperatures drop near 20 degrees F:

          Cabbage                        Carrots (if mulched)          Broccoli

          Brussels Sprouts            Turnips                          Peas

          Radishes (if           mulched)          Collards                          Kale            

          Root crops, such as beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, and turnips, can be left in the ground through the fall.  Once hard freezes occur, mulch these plants with a heavy layer of straw to keep the ground from freezing.  Root crops can be dug as needed throughout the winter by temporarily removing the mulch cover.

          Some of the above listed fall garden crops must be planted by the first week in August.  Others, like radishes should be planted by the first week in September, and spinach by September 15th.  Check with your full service garden center for a list and suggested planting dates. Try a fall garden this year and extend your harvest.