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Fall Gardening Know-How

Planting Cole Crops in Fall

As our summer gardening season is coming to a close, it’s the perfect time to get your fall vegetable garden growing. What could be tastier than going out in your backyard to pick some fresh cabbage, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cauliflower or spinach for a healthy meal? Here’s our handy garden guide for planting your cole crops! These crops will flourish until frost arrives.

Cabbage - this low-cost, crunchy vegetable is easy to grow in fall. It requires full sun and rich soil, so be sure and use compost and manure in your garden bed. When you plant your cabbage seedlings, mix in a tablespoon of slow-release organic fertilizer to each planting hole. They will need space to spread out when they grow, so 10-12” apart will give you a good buffer. You want to water the seedlings every day for at least a few weeks. After a couple weeks, you can feed the plants with additional fertilizer. It’s time to harvest your cabbage when the plant forms a compact head. Give it a light squeeze and use a knife to cut through the main stalk of the plant right below the head. After harvesting,, remove the entire root system from the soil to avoid disease build up.

Spinach - spinach prefers an area in full sun, however, it is one of the few vegetables that can tolerate some shade. You can choose to plant from seeds or small plants, but make sure to give them enough space to spread out and grow. Six inches is usually enough. This plant requires at least one inch of water per week, and it’s best to water them in the mornings, so they can dry out throughout the day. Spinach can be harvested in as little as six weeks after planting the seeds. You can harvest by pinching or snipping off mature leaves and continue harvesting until the plants go to seed.

Broccoli - broccoli is a fairly slow grower, and you can choose to grow them from seeds or small plants. From seeds, you can start them indoors three to four weeks before transplanting. When you transplant outside, choose an area with full sun, and use compost and manure in your garden bed. Broccoli needs three main elements: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Space the seedlings 18” apart in rows and make sure to give them starter fertilizer. It will take about 60-70 days from the date of transplant for broccoli to mature. Harvest the florets before the yellow flowers appear by using a sharp knife to cut the head of the stalk just below the floret head. You can leave the plant in the ground and look for new florets to sprout.

The Fall Veggie Garden

by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

When it’s hot, it’s difficult to think about a cool-season vegetable garden. Yet, it’s time to do just that – and time to begin prepping and planting one. If you have a warm-season summer garden of squash, melons, cucumbers and peppers, maybe some of those plants have produced all they can and can be removed to make room for cooler crops like spinach, lettuces, onions and collards.

Once you rip out old plants, add some aged compost or work in some 10-10-10 fertilizer to prep the soil for the newer ones. Transplants of cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussel sprouts can be planted now and harvested before the first killing frost sometime early November. Spinach, on the other hand, can withstand lots of cold and even make it through the winter, same goes for collards. In fact, it’s said that the kiss of frost makes collards sweet and tender, and some people don’t harvest collards until frost has done its duty. Kale, evergreen bunching onions, lettuce, parsley, parsnips and carrots are other crops that may survive all winter in the garden, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension. Mulch those overwintering vegetables with 8 inches of mulch to prevent heaving - freezing and thawing - of the soil. Most of these vegetables can be dug or picked as needed throughout the winter or in early spring.

If you don’t have room for an in-ground vegetable garden, sow lettuce, onion, spinach and other seeds in large pots with good drainage holes. To harvest lettuce bowls, just use scissors to snip off greens and let the lettuces grow again. Colorful lettuces make colorful seasonal shows in fall, especially when the pots are paired with containers of ornamental kales and pretty pansies. My dream is to plant a year-round veggie garden in an old wooden rowboat. That way I can control the soil, amending it with lots of compost and shredded leaves and take bets that the veggie-munching bunnies can’t hop that high.

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Extend Your Harvest

Plant more warm-season veggies now for cool-season harvests.
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

I grew up with a vegetable garden. Dad raised potatoes, string beans, corn, cucumbers, onions, squash and tomatoes – lots of tasty tomatoes. Mom canned beans and tomatoes and pickled cucumbers. It’s how our family of six ate healthy and fresh on the conservative income my father made at the local shipyard.

As an adult, Dad spoiled us with fresh tomatoes from a smaller garden, and Mom still put up string beans. To this day, I can’t eat canned string beans from the store, only fresh ones, because nothing else compares to what I have known.

Now, that my father’s veggie patch is gone because he’s in a retirement home and mom has passed on to her heavenly garden, I try my best to raise a few fresh veggies for the meals I fix me and hubby.

Around this time of year, by mid-July, I plant a second crop of vegetables, particularly tomatoes, so I have a fall crop. The process is called succession planting, a method that works really good for many crops, including lettuces and onions. It’s the best way to keep a continuous harvest. Succession planting is also the process of planting something where you removed plants – such as summer corn after spring peas. Before putting in any new plants, always add some aged compost to the soil to replenish it for good plant growth.

When you plant new tomatoes, plant them deep for strong root growth. Stake as needed, and you’re your fingers to remove small, lower leaves, or suckers. You can root suckers in jars of water, and plant them after roots develop.

My favorite tomatoes include sandwich-slicing styles, as well as cherry tomatoes I eat on salads and as snacks. There’s always a plate of bite-sized tomatoes on the laundry counter so I can grab a few as I go out the door. During summer, a tomato snack refreshes me as much as a cool glass of lemonade.

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