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    Fall Gardening | Fall 2013 Out Here Magazine

    Broccoli - Tractor Supply Co.
    Broccoli is better adapted to fall gardening, because it produces its best quality and flavor when it can mature during cooler weather.

    Enjoy your fresh, homegrown vegetables far into winter

    Courtesy of the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service

    Photography by iStock

    Fall is an excellent time to grow many vegetable crops.

    During this season, the gardener can take advantage of cooler temperatures and more plentiful moisture. Many spring-planted crops, such as lettuce and spinach, tend to bolt — or produce seed — and become bitter in response to the long, hot summer days.

    Fall gardening helps extend your gardening season so that you can continue to harvest produce after earlier crops have faded.

    Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts are better adapted to fall gardening, because they produce the best quality and flavor when they can mature during cooler weather. For many crops, insect and disease pests are not as much of a problem in fall plantings.

    Many vegetable crops are well adapted to planting in late summer for a fall harvest. Use fast-maturing cultivars whenever possible to ensure a harvest before killing frost occurs. Determine the average date of first killing frost for your area. Then count backward from the frost date, using the number of days to maturity for the cultivars you want to grow to determine the last feasible planting date.

    Keep the fall garden in mind while planning and ordering your spring garden seeds and plants. Seeds of the cultivars you want may be out of stock by late summer.

    You may need to raise your own transplants; not all garden centers carry vegetable plants for fall gardens.

    PLANTING

    Remove all previous crop residues and any weed growth. Prepare the soil as needed by rototilling or spading 6-8 inches deep. If spring crops were heavily fertilized, then no additional fertilization may be needed.

    However, 1-2 pounds of a general analysis fertilizer, such as 12-12-12, may be applied per 100 square feet of bed area. Be sure to thoroughly mix the fertilizer with the soil. Some gardeners prefer to sidedress the plants — placing nutrients on or in the soil near the roots — with 1 pound of 10-10-10 per 25-30 feet of row placed 6-12 inches from the plants.

    Apply the sidedressing two-three weeks after germination if plants appear to be growing slowly.

    Late summer plantings often suffer from hot soil and a lack of water. Soils may form a hard crust over the seeds, which can interfere with seed germination, particularly in heavy soils. Use a light mulch of vermiculite, compost, or potting soil over the seed row to prevent a crust from forming.

    Seeds of lettuce, peas, and spinach will not germinate well when the soil temperature is 85 degrees and above.

    Shading the soil and using a light mulch over the seed row will help keep the temperature more favorable for germination.

    Do not allow seedlings and young transplants to dry out excessively. Apply 1 inch of water in a single application each week to thoroughly moisten the soil. Young seedlings may need to be watered more often during the first week or two of growth. Young transplants may benefit from light shade for the first few days until their new roots become established.

    FROST PROTECTION

    Some vegetables that are already growing in the garden will continue to produce well into the fall, but are damaged by even a light frost.
    You can extend the fall growing season for tender crops and new crops by protecting them through early light frosts. Cover growing beds with blankets or throw-cloths supported by stakes or wire to prevent injury to the plants.

    Individual plants can be protected with such items as paper caps, milk jugs, plastic water-holding walls, and other commercially available products.

    Extend your growing season even further and eat fresh far into winter by planting crops in a coldframe or hotbed.