It seems as though the sweltering heat of summer has come early to suppress us all in a lazy, hazy fog.
I know I certainly avoid being outside as much as I can when the thermometer tops 90 degrees. Merely sitting — even in the shade — can leave you a sticky, sweaty mess.
There’s one way to beat the sultry summer blues, though. Think ahead to fall!
Believe it or not, now is the time to start planning and planting the fall vegetable garden.
I would say that a majority of gardeners in our area are the type that run out and plant everything in May, then harvest through summer, allowing the plants to hang on until they fall to some disease or finally succumb to frost.
These gardeners are missing the bounty that comes with the fall garden.
What and when to plant
Some crops — such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts — thrive in the cooler weather of fall and even survive well beyond frost.
Other plants — beans, squash and tomatoes — will do well in the fall, but won’t survive frost. Plants like tomatoes and squash that are planted specifically for fall will well outperform those that are left to languish from the spring planting.
Starting plants for the fall is also easier than starting them for the spring — since temperatures outside are warm, there’s no need to start plants indoors under light. Simply start them outside in pots in a place protected from heavy rain.
I’ll be providing a basic list of things you can plant in the next few weeks for a fall harvest, but it is good to know how to figure out planting times for other crops. For this, we are going to have to resort to some good old mathematics.
The first step is to check out the seed packet or the plant label for the maturity date. For example, I have a packet of ‘Mammoth Red Rock’ cabbage seeds I want to start for fall. The packet says it matures in 90 days. Now, here’s where the math comes in. We need to add some time for the period of harvest.
Let’s say I’m planting cabbage that I want to harvest over a two-week period, so I’m going to add 14 days. Since plants grow more slowly in cooler temperatures, I also need to add another 14 days for what we will call the “fall factor.”
If we were starting a warm-season crop like tomatoes, we would also need to add another two weeks for the possibility of frost.
When we add up the days to maturity, the harvest period and the fall factor, we get a total of 118 days — about 16 weeks.
We then look at a calendar to schedule when to start our cabbage plants.
We need to look at a calendar and count backward from the date in which we think the plant will die from frost or we want to finish harvesting.
Cool-season crops like cabbage can withstand several frosts, so we can say that we want to finish growing them three or four weeks after the first frost in the fall (which we will say is Oct. 10), then we should be starting our cabbage right about now.
Isn’t that convenient? If I were starting those tomatoes, I would want to make sure that I counted backward from the first frost date.
To get the most out of your fall garden, I would suggest that you plant small plots multiple times throughout the rest of the summer until the last feasible time to plant the crop. You can extend these calendar dates, and even over-winter col-tolerant crops like spinach, kale and the cole crops by using a row cover fabric. Below you will find a basic list of the last time to seed/plant each crop so that you can enjoy harvest before winter comes along.
Last time to plant for fall
n Seed cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and other crops for late transplants
n Seed late sweet corn
n Plant grape tomatoes
n Plant cauliflower and broccoli
n Seed summer squash
n Seed collards and kale
n Plant peppers
n Seed beans and peas
n Plant cabbage and Chinese cabbage
n Seed cucumbers
n Seed carrots
n Seed turnips and radishes
n Seed lettuce
n Seed beets and Swiss chard
n Seed spinach