If the heat of summer has left you longing for some young, fresh lettuce, late summer and fall gardens can give you a second crop of cool season vegetables. While frost will finish off some of the plants in our garden, others will flourish in cooler weather and some will actually improve in flavor with the first frosts. Vegetables are broken into two classifications, cool-season and warm-season. Just like it says, the warm season veggies prefer warm weather, temperatures over 65 degrees. This includes melons, tomatoes, peppers, beans, etc. The cool season vegetables prefer cooler weather and shorter days. These are the ones that will give us a second chance, the ones we can plant again now. Typically, this includes leafy vegetables and some of the root crops. Seeds of lettuce, peas and spinach will not germinate well when the soil temperature is above 85 degrees F. Shading the soil by using a light mulch over the seed row will help keep the temperature more favorable for germination.
The average first frost date in this area is October 10th. The key to fall planting is to use short season and rapidly maturing varieties. Some suggestions for fall planting, and a rough estimate of days to maturity are: Scallions-40 days, Spinach-45 days, Swiss Chard- 60 days, Kohlrabi-55 days, Turnip-45 days, Radish- 22 days, Kale-55 days, Baby Carrots-50 days, Beets-55 days, Lettuce –40 days. The days to maturity are counted from the time the plant is transplanted or is up and growing in your garden, not from the time the seed is planted.
Once your plants are growing, mulch is an excellent way to help keep the soil warm longer. It also holds in moisture and helps prevent weeds. Good news, most of the weeds are slowing down and won’t be the problem that is so prevalent in our summer gardens. Also, most of the insects have already completed their life cycle and aren’t a problem for fall crops (except aphids)!
The gardening season can be extended further with the use of a row cover. This is a good suggestion for not only the fall planted crop, but to extend the season for the warm season vegetables, too. This cover could be a product like Remay (which is a gauze-like floating row cover) that allows light, water and oxygen to pass through. It can be left on. Blankets or bed sheets can also be used but keep the cover from touching the leaves as it will transfer the cold to the leaves causing damage. Blankets tend to get heavy with moisture and collapse easily, damaging the plants as much as the frost would have, unless you have heavy-duty frames around the plants.
If you’re one of those gardeners that can’t stand to see the garden season end, consider the possibilities of fall gardening. It has it’s own interests and challenges, but also the benefit of a yummy second harvest.