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Plant A Fall Garden | Fall 2007 Out Here Magazine

Cooler temperatures are a prime time for some vegetables

By Jodi Torpey

Don't put those gardening gloves away just yet. Now is the perfect time for planting a fall vegetable garden.

Mother Nature may be slowing down this time of year, but smart gardeners know they can extend their gardening season by planting cool-season crops that like chilly weather.

Besides the joy of bypassing expensive veggies in the produce aisle, many cool-season vegetables are also good for your health. Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and flowering kale have cancer-fighting nutrients.

Other delicious cold-weather vegetables include onions, beets, carrots, peas, chard, endive, lettuce, collards, mustards, turnips, radishes, spinach, and Chinese cabbage.

An added benefit of planting for cold weather is that the frosty temperatures actually bring out the flavor and sweetness of some vegetables, such as parsnips and kale.

For a successful fall garden, planning is the key to planting. Check with your county extension office for your area's average date for the first killing frost, when temperatures dip to 25 degrees or lower. Knowing this date will help you decide when and what to plant. Just count back from the frost date and use the number of days to maturity for each kind of vegetable to find the planting date.

If you're not sure when to plant, it's safer to plant earlier than later. This gives plants time to grow quickly during the autumn and be closer to harvest when the deep freeze does arrive.

Clear the planting area of weeds and any summer crops that are beyond their prime.

Till the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches and plant the seeds. If the weather is still hot when it's time to plant, help reduce the soil temperature by watering the garden just before planting.

You can plant the seeds a bit deeper than you usually do during spring planting. This helps seeds stay cool and moist. Shading the soil with a light mulch will also help regulate the soil temperature to help with germination. Water as needed to keep the seeds moist.

If the summer garden was well-fertilized, the fall garden may do well without adding additional fertilizer. However, fall vegetables may benefit from side dressing with nitrogen, just like their spring counterparts.

Be prepared when cold weather does arrive. Some cool-season veggies, such as beets, lettuce, and carrots, can tolerate a light frost. Protect plants with old sheets propped above plants, plastic milk jugs, or row covers. Other vegetables, such as broccoli, turnips, and cabbage can stand one or more hard frosts.

Even though you've never planted a fall garden before, now is the time for one final planting before you go dormant for the winter.

Jodi Torpey is a master gardener in Denver and author of the new book, The Colorado Gardener's Companion: An Insider's Guide to Gardening in the Centennial State.