What’s good for grow­ing in the fall?


Spe­cial to the Whig

Veg­etable gar­den­ers across Cecil County are busy this time of year haul­ing the fruits of land and la­bor into their kitchens. What doesn’t get eaten fresh will be pre­served for the sea­son to come.

As hot as the weather has been lately, soon it will be cool­ing off. Gar­den plants will be­come less pro­duc­tive un­til a light frost takes out the most ten­der of them, and gar­den­ers will start clean­ing up their plots for win­ter. But for those who love grow­ing veg­eta­bles, the fall of­fers a great op­por­tu­nity to grow cer­tain crops.

While ten­der squash, pep­per and tomato plants de­cline in pro­duc­tiv­ity this time of year, roots, greens and cole crops such as broc­coli, cab­bage and kale ex­cel in the cooler weather. With sea­son ex­ten­sion tech­niques, they can pro­duce yields through­out the fall and into win­ter, but the time to get them es­tab­lished is now. The Univer­sity of Mary­land of­fers a valu­able guide on plant­ing dates for veg­eta­bles in this, Home & Gar­den doc­u­ment 16.

Au­gust and Septem­ber are the months to seed beets, car­rots, let­tuce, turnips, broc­coli and cau­li­flower for har vests in the cooler weather. These crops can fill the void left by warmer weather crops such as pota­toes, corn and squash that have run their course. Be­sides the ben­e­fit of in­creased yields by grow­ing more crops in the same gar­den area, fall gar­dens can of­fer fewer pest prob­lems and a more en­joy­able work­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Crops such as let­tuce and cau­li­flower, which are quick to bolt ( in other words, be­come bit­ter and form seed heads) as the tem­per­a­ture climbs in the spring, will stay fresh and ten­der for weeks to come. Ad­di­tion­ally, some crops such as car­rots achieve max­i­mum sweet­ness af­ter a frost forces the plant to con­cen­trate sug­ars in its root.

One chal­lenge to fall gar­den­ing is find­ing seeds and trans­plants. While lo­cal nurs­eries and big box stores are awash with these items in the spring, they can be hard to find come late sum­mer. If you don’t have left­over seed from the spring, mail or­der seed houses still have am­ple sup­ply. An­other Univer­sity of Mary­land doc­u­ment, Home & Gar­den 70, pro­vides rec­om­men­da­tions on spe­cific cul­ti­vars that per­form well in our cli­mate and en­vi­ron­ment.

For fall crops that should be set out as trans­plants, it may al­ready be get­ting late to start them in­doors. As with plants started in­doors in the spring, sunny win­dows of­ten pro­vide in­ad­e­quate light for good plant de­vel­op­ment. Use of ar­ti­fi­cial light or set­ting young seedlings out very early in the morn­ing ( be­fore 8 a. m.) or late in the evening ( af­ter 7 p. m.) is rec­om­mended. Even mid- morn­ing sun this time of year is too much for young trans­plants out­side.

Seed­ing new crops in the hot, dry sum­mer does in­volve some spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tions. The lack of rain this time of year can limit ger­mi­na­tion and leave ten- der seedlings vul­ner­a­ble to dr ying out, so ir­ri­ga­tion is cru­cial. Shade cloth, or grow­ing fall crops be­hind tall plants such as toma­toes to avoid full sun ex­po­sure can be ben­e­fi­cial, as is choos­ing ar­eas of the gar­den that avoid late af­ter­noon sun.

Once grown, fall crops typ­i­cally can stand in the ground through a light frost. With some pro­tec­tion such as float­ing row cov­ers or cold frames that can eas­ily be con­structed from dis­carded win­dows, crops like let­tuce can con­tinue to feed a fam­ily well into win­ter.

Farmer and au­thor Eliot Cole­man has writ­ten sev­eral ex­cel­lent books on sea­son ex­ten­sion with knowl­edge learned from ex­per­i­men­ta­tion on his farm in Maine, which state has a much harsher win­ter cli­mate than ours. With a mi­nor in­vest­ment of time and money now, you can en­joy gar­den­ing and the fresh­est pos­si­ble pro­duce for sev­eral months to come. Cooler weather does not ne­ces­si­tate shut­ting down your gar­den.

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