Thursday, July 30, 2015

Five Things to Know For a Successful Fall Vegetable Garden by Patti O’Neal


Plant Lettuce now for Fall Harvest photo CSU Extension
Front Range weather has been especially challenging to gardeners this season.  After a fairly dry winter, spring presented with cold nights, freak snow storms, scorching heat and pounding rain and hail – and all of a sudden it’s mid July and we have had scorching heat!  But take heart.  One of the nicest growing seasons is yet to come; fall. 

There are many vegetables that will happily germinate from seed in the warm summer soil and thrive in the cooler temperatures of fall once they mature, and even taste better after a cold snap. This includes about 20 varieties of leaf and head lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, kale, about 6 varieties of spinach, many oriental greens, onions, cilantro, peas, beets, turnips, arugula, carrots, kohlrabi and collards.  Even better news is that thinnings of all of these vegetables can be used in salads or soups.
Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' photo Burpee.com
Mid July to early August is the time to begin to sow fall garden seeds outdoors or to put out the transplants you began from seed a month or so ago. So if you have had struggles with your summer vegetable garden, take heart. Here are five success tips for an amazing second chance garden.

1.  Choose short season varieties – Nearly every vegetable has a variety whose growing season is shorter than the other members of that family. Example: Turnips have about a dozen varieties that have maturity dates from 30 to 70 days. Select either a 30 day (this means you can harvest them after 30 days and have delightful little baby turnips) up to the 55 day variety for best success.  Select the varieties for each vegetable that mature at50-60 days for best success.  You can select them with a little longer maturity date if you are prepared to protect them against sudden frost (see tip #5). 
2.  Set yourself up for success by staggering your planting dates.  Calendar your planting for every week to two weeks for about a month so your harvest doesn’t come in all at once.  Beets, peas, kohlrabi and even spinach and chard can be not only eaten fresh, but frozen for eating later in the winter.  But lettuce, cilantro, radishes, arugula are best eaten fresh, so staggering the planting is a better idea. 
3.  Plant for Optimum harvest – Use intensive planting techniques; block row spacing, square foot spacing, intercropping and vertical structures to maximize your space to give you more variety or quantity for your harvest.  
4Spot amend to replenish soil nutrients.  Because vegetables are heavy feeders, the soil could use a little boost before your next crop is planted to restore its nutrients and boost its components. As your warm season crops wind down and you remove them, add an inch or two of fresh organic matter and gently work it into the top several of inches of soil prior to planting.  
5Have emergency weather protection on standby.  By virtue of the time of year these third season crops will be growing in, the first freeze could possibly happen any time from mid September on.  Front Range historical weather data for the past 10 years tells us that first frost has not occurred until mid-October. Regardless, it is smart to be prepared.  This means a supply of a horticulture fabric most commonly know as floating row cover is a good idea. This works if you have a hoop system over a raised bed or in ground garden.  It can also be cut to be used over container gardens or tossed over a garden bed.   Make sure it is the heavier weight made for frost protection.  Other materials may also be used over hooped structures like 4-6 mil plastic. Household sheets and blankets can be used as long as there is no moisture associated with the cold snap. 

As you become more accomplished with extending your growing season, you may wish to invest in space blankets and even a set of Christmas lights to offer a bit more protection.  
The fall season of gardening offers an embarrassment of riches for fresh vegetable possibilities. Most of these cool season veggies are the highest in antioxidants and vitamins and can be eaten fresh or preserved for late winter enjoyment.   In addition, don’t forget that fall (mid to late September) is the time to plant your garlic for harvest next summer or to plant a cover crop to rest, revitalize and enrich your soil.  For additional information consult  http://cmg.colostate.edu/gardennotes/719.pdf  and http://cmg.colostate.edu/gardennotes/722.pdf