By this time of summer, the hope of the spring garden has turned into the hot, gritty reality of summer. You may be exhausted from fighting waist high weeds in order to haul in more produce to clean and process. The fall garden may be easier to manage.
And if you thought you might plant a fall garden, it’s time to do more than think about it. Depending on a few variables, it’s only 12-14 weeks until the first frost in late October. Some plants will survive a frost or even a hard freeze. Others will exit with the first frost. So we need fall plants to grow quickly.
For fall gardens there’s an advantage to selecting an early maturing variety such as squash that mature in 50 days rather than 60. Since we’re planting into hot, dry soils, we need to plant deeper than we would in spring. Fall seeding may be one and a half to two times as deep as spring seeding. You might even top small seed with a light layer of compost or peat.
As the seedlings start to grow frequent applications of water may be necessary in the heat of late summer. Water only as deep as the young roots. You may have more or less problems with insects. When deciding what to plant, consider what has been in the garden and what problems you have had. If your squash have been inundated with squash bugs, planting more squash may be wasted effort – especially if you haven’t cleaned up the exhausted plants from summer garden yet.
With cooler fall weather, you’ll want to be prepared to protect cold sensitive plants from frost. Often the first frost will be followed by more weeks of good growing weather. Covering plants with row covers or old curtains may allow you to continue harvest somewhat longer. And with cold tolerant plants, it’s certainly possible to have fresh broccoli for holiday meals.
In our part of the world winter doesn’t have to mean the end of harvest. But for now, we need to clean up the space and prepare for planting.
Al Cooke is the former horticulture extension agent for Chatham County.