Fall Gardening Vegetables - A Second Harvest

Fall gardening vegetables can extend the gardening season by planting a second crop. Late summer and fall gardens yield a variety of vegetables up to and through the first frost.

Most gardeners plant their gardens in the spring or early summer. When hot weather has ended the harvest of tender lettuce, scallions, and sweet green peas, they forget about these delights until the following spring. If you are one of those gardeners, consider the possibilities of fall gardening.

While the first frost may terminate your fall lettuce, a variety of vegetables will continue to grow after the first frost. Beets, broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, turnips, mustard, and Swiss chard can all be planted in August or September and harvested well into the fall. Even some of the frost-tender vegetables like beans and tomatoes can be started late in the summer and harvested until the season ends. The key is to use short season or rapidly maturing varieties and do the arithmetic to determine when to start your plants.

First, identify the approximate date of the first frost in your growing region. Then check the number of days to maturity on the seed packet for the vegetable you plan to grow. For example, certain bean varieties mature in 55 days. Since crops may take somewhat longer to mature in the fall, add another 14 days for a total of 69 days until harvest. Now count backward 69 days from the first frost date to determine the date you must plant beans to harvest them before a killing frost. For leaf lettuce, which can be harvested in 40 days, add 14 days, and the planting date will be 54 days before the first frost. For all hardy plants that can survive the first frost, use the number of days to maturity listed on the seed packet to determine when to plant.

Probably the only difficulty you may encounter with fall gardening will be poor germination of some types of seeds if the weather is too hot at the time of planting. You can overcome problems with temperature if you start your plants inside in a cool location in small peat pots or paper cups to be transplanted outside after germination. Many nurseries and garden centers sell fall vegetable seedlings. Purchasing seedlings will eliminate any problems with germination due to heat, but may limit your choice of varieties. Seedlings of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and collards can be transplanted 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost.

It is very important to provide ample nutrients and an adequate supply of water to allow your vegetables to take full advantage of each day remaining in the growing season. Mulching around the seedlings will help the soil retain moisture if you have a dry autumn. Fortunately, weeds are less of a problem late in the year and there will be fewer insect pests to attack your fall vegetable crop. Unfortunately, aphids never seem to go away and tend to be much worse during a dry growing season. A strong spray of water will wash them off your plants while encouraging lady beetles and praying mantids in your garden will eliminate them permanently.

For fall gardeners, the last days of summer do not signal the end of this year's garden, but the beginning of a special growing season with interesting challenges and a delicious second harvest.

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