Fall Gardening – Are You Ready For Another Go?

Fall is a great time to grow vegetables that prefer or tolerate cooler temperatures and cooler, moister soil.  The bugs are hopefully less plentiful in the fall as well, making for a pleasant experience for both garden and gardener.  The important thing to remember is that most cool weather plants need to be pretty well established before the first cold nights come to town.  Try to choose cultivars carefully, ensuring that they’ll have plenty of time to grow and produce before the first hard freeze, which is typically November 15-17 in our area, but may be even later in warmer years.

This squash is just about ripe.

This squash is just about ripe, and when it’s ready to be picked, it’s time to rip out that raggedy looking vine as well, to make room for other fall crops.

Clean up the worn out veggies in the garden.  Remove any dead or dying vegetable plants, along with any weeds that are still hanging on for dear life.  If you have tomato or pepper plants that are still producing, hopefully you can harvest up until the first frost, but the worn-out beans, cucumbers, lettuce, and anything else that looks pitiful need to go.  Make sure your herbs are harvested and processed before they decline or freeze.

Compost everything you’ve just ripped out of the garden, except the diseased bits, and throw out the rest.  Some people even compost their weeds or make weed tea to feed their plants.  Clean up all those rotting figs, pears, and apples laying on the ground, as they’ll attract even more pests and critters to your garden.  If you’re practicing crop rotation, and haven’t noted what you have planted already this year and where, do it now.

Start seeds and/or find transplants.  Generally, in our area you can plan on harvesting something from October into December.

Here are some guidelines for planting fall and winter crops:

  • Have fall snap bean and potato seedlings in the ground by August 15.
  • Have mildew resistant cucumber and squash plants in the ground by August 31.
  • Start brassicas such as broccoli, cabbage, and greens in a partly shaded location, and transplant into the garden in September.
  • Plant beets, brassicas, carrots, lettuce, onions, spinach from September into October. Staggered greens plantings will increase your harvest period.
  • For everything else, count back from November 15-17, our average first frost date. So for sugar snap peas with a maturity time of 64 days, add 18 days according to the UGA Agricultural extension service, meaning seeds would need to be planted no later than August 26ish.
  • If watering is necessary when planting the seed, water individual seed furrows prior to placing the seed into the soil, and then cover.

Prepare the soil.  If your garden is mulched, and it appears to be in good shape, move it aside if you’re planning to improve the soil, and save the best of it for reapplication once you’ve finished playing with the dirt.  You may need to freshen up the mulch, since it’s unlikely that it’s all in great shape.  Straw and shredded leaves make great fall mulch, in case you’re wondering.  The leaves must be shredded or else they will form a nearly impermeable barrier to water.   Bet you already knew that, though.

I hope you're not planning on shredding those leaves by hand.

I hope you’re not planning on shredding those leaves by hand. Fall is a great time to mulch with shredded leaves, provided you have a chipper/shredder, aka the lawnmower, in some cases.

Feed the soil with compost or composted manure and add slow release fertilizer to build muscles.  If you think you have some serious nutrient deficiencies or pH issues, now’s a good time to have your soil tested, or do it yourself if you’re comfortable using home testing kits.   Once your dirt has been fed to the point it’s pushing itself away from the table, groom it into rows with a rake, to create little furrows that do a better job of holding rainfall.

Solarizing garden plots.

This may be on a much larger scale than in your home garden, but the concept of solarizing is the same. Here, multiple plots are covered, sealed, and the plastic secured in place.

Solarize soil (optional).  If you’re not planning on growing fall and winter crops in certain parts or all your garden area, this would be a good time to solarize the soil.  Solarizing involves covering your soil with plastic sheeting, which is tucked in all around the edges, and anchored down with bricks, stones, or cement blocks to secure it in place.  The point is to take advantage of the heat that builds up under the plastic to kill weed seeds, insects, fungi, and bacteria in the soil.  The benefits are greatest closest to the surface, and plan on keeping the soil covered for six weeks.

This plot of buckwheat attracts bees and beneficial insects.

Late summer/early fall cover crops are such a gift to your garden soil. This plot of buckwheat attracts bees and beneficial insects while adding nutrients to the soil when it is turned under, two weeks after it starts blooming.

Plant cover crops (optional).  Another option if you’re done with veggie gardening for the year is planting fall cover crops.  It’s like sending your soil to a spa retreat for a very long vacation.  Cover crops add organic matter and nutrients, loosen up the soil, reduce soil loss and erosion, control weeds, and attract good bugs.  Here in Georgia, farmers often plant a mix of cowpeas, sorghum, and buckwheat.  Crimson clover, Austrian winter peas, rye and oats are also commonly grown as fall cover crops here.  Buckwheat is typically used as a summer cover crop, but it is quick growing, making early fall plantings possible as well.

That’s a lot to take in, and it’s still pretty darn hot out there.  Take it easy, and make a prioritized list of required activities, based on how you’re planning on spending your garden’s time this fall.  There are plenty of resources offering additional information, and some guides for beginners just below.

Sources:

General information on gardening in our area.

http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=C943

Soil preparation for fall gardening.

https://www.thespruce.com/preparing-your-vegetable-garden-for-fall-1402167

Solarizing the soil.

https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/soil-solarization

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in856

Cover crops.

http://www.caes.uga.edu/newswire/story.html?storyid=4523

https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/4185/

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