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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.

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.

Grow What You Eat

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

Dad was never a fan of ornamental shrubs and flowers. His philosophy was: Grow what you can eat! And, by golly, we ate good from his huge summer gardens filled with potatoes, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, string beans, spring onions and anything else tasty he could squeeze into the 40-by-100-foot plot behind my childhood home in Newport News.

Those summer gardens fueled my own desire to grow what I could eat, even though Dad continued to spoil me with fresh produce until his health recently declined. Today, I often grow edibles in raised beds fashioned from plain boards of lumber, or try my hand at straw bale gardening, which I really like because the entire garden can be recycled into compost.

My favorite edibles continue to be tomatoes – small grape tomatoes like Juliet and cherry tomatoes like Super Sweet, as well as mini pickling cucumbers that cut up nicely into fresh spinach salads. Eggplant and squash are also easy to cultivate in a backyard garden.

For the past two to three years, I plant extra miniature tomatoes like Juliet because my yard turtle, Fred, favors them so much. Each morning, bright and early, Fred creeps from the creek, along the grassy back lawn, into my pollinator garden where I place one or two tomato plants just for him. He always knows they will be there, and I know he will always be there – it’s one of the best parts of my mid-summer gardening days when the fruits begin to ripen.

This year, I’m introducing my 3-year-old granddaughter, Mattie, to gardening. Using a kit of cedar boards, she and I will plant a small garden of veggies, things like tomatoes, basil, oregano and onions for a homemade pizza, and surround it with marigolds for color and extra pollination.

In addition to my father, my grandmother in Lynchburg mentored my love for any kind of gardening. We spent many hours under her grape arbor, shelling fresh-picked butterbeans and shucking corn. I hope to pass that love onto Mattie and inspire her to grow what she can eat – it’s a healthy way to love your grandkids, for sure!

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