Second Coming

By Robin Sweetser

Have your peas pooped out? Did your lettuce go to seed? Now is a good time to plant more of these veggies and other traditional spring crops to harvest this fall.

I know that summer is not even half over but it is never too early to plan for fall. Many gardeners consider fall to be a four letter word but it doesn’t have to spell the end of fresh from the garden food.

Timing is Everything

To plan what to plant in your fall garden consult the Almanac to find the first frost date for your area. Where I live, it is around September 20 but often it is another month before we get a killing frost. There is a lot of glorious gardening weather between now and then. Next look at the days to maturity on your seed packets. Even though the days are beginning to shorten, the soil is warmer than it was in May so seeds sown now will germinate much faster.

Seed ‘Em and Reap

Fast growing, tender veggies like summer squash and zucchini will bear fruit in 45-50 days. Many varieties of cucumbers are ready to eat in under 50 days and bush beans take about 6- 8 weeks to reach a harvestable size. The only problem with these crops is that they will be killed by frost unless you plan to protect them. If you live in an area with a long growing season this will not be a problem.

Cold Shoulder

The best vegetables to plant now are those that are cold tolerant. They won’t be damaged by a few light frosts. Salad greens are fast and hardy; leaf lettuces are ready to cut in 45-50 days. Sometime lettuce seeds have difficulty germinating in hot soil so I start my new baby lettuces in flats that I can keep well-watered and shaded until the plants are large enough to transplant into the garden. Some varieties of lettuce such as ‘Winter Marvel’ and ‘New Red Fire’ are more cold-tolerant than others.

A quick crop of radishes will be ready for the salad bowl in 25 days. Other root crops like carrots, beets, and turnips will take longer but are worth the wait since they seem to get sweeter as the days get cooler. Snap peas and snow peas start to bear in 60 days and peas that mature in cold weather seem especially sweet and crisp. Pea vines can survive temperatures down to 25 degrees. Fall-planted spinach does much better than spring planted spinach since it is maturing during the cool weather it loves instead of struggling in the summer heat. Swiss chard is another hardy green that reaches an edible size in 25-30 days. Given some extra protection when frost threatens, spinach and chard can last well into fall. If well-mulched, in many parts of the country spinach will winter over and give you an extra-early spring crop of the best spinach you’ve ever tasted!

Broccoli and kohlrabi mature well in cool weather and will not be bothered by the cabbage moth larvae as much as spring-planted cole crops are. Kale is a winter staple. Try blue-green ‘Winterbor’ or pretty purple ‘Redbor’. They can be harvested long after other greens have been killed by cold weather.

The real stars of the fall garden are the Asian greens. Quick maturing varieties can be harvested in 45 days. Tatsoi, pac choi, mizuna, and napa are all in the brassica family. They can weather a frost and will last through a hard freeze if given some protection.

Some Asian greens like hon tsai tai and mibuna are more closely related to mustard (also a brassica) which gives them tangy leaves that add a pleasant bite to an autumn salad or stir fry. Other greens such as arugula, mache, minutina, and claytonia can withstand quite cold temperatures, providing you with lots of interesting salads and cooked greens well into late fall.

Fall can be a second spring. After harvesting garlic in late July, there will be lots of room for fall crops. Freshen up the empty beds with some compost and get ready to plant your second garden.

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