Fall Vegetable Gardening by Karla Basallaje, Master Gardener.
As we approach fall with its mellow days, cooler nighttime temperatures, and pretty autumn colors of red and gold, our thoughts turn to our fall garden. Even as we are still enduring hot rainless days, it is the perfect time to plan and to plant.
The fall vegetable garden offers a great opportunity to repeat successful spring and early summer plantings or to re-try an attempted but failed crop. We learn by our mistakes! So whether we need to change our planting spot or better heed our plants’ watering needs, we have another chance for success. Location is important remembering that a vegetable garden needs about 8 hours of direct sunlight each day and well drained soil. Another important step is to determine your gardening region and your USDA hardiness zone; to find this information go to aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and search your gardening region. It is important because you need to determine the average first killing frost date in your area. My Texas gardening zone is 3 and my USDA Hardiness Zone is 8 for my Hunt County 75189 zip code. Therefore, the average first 32-degree freeze in my area is November 15th.
With this information, determine the number of days your plant will take to germinate and harvest. This information should be on your seed packet. Add two weeks because of the slower rate at which a plant matures in the fall (that is a result of cooler weather and shorter days), and you should have the number days to count back from the first frost date. So, for example, I will be planting cucumbers. I looked up the varieties recommended for Texas, and I will try the Burpless for slicers and the Carolina for pickling. The days to harvest on the Burpless is 55 days plus 7 days to germinate (add two weeks – 14 days), and count backwards from November 15th, you will end up with September 1st, which is the average planting date for cucumbers in my zone. For fact sheets on the vegetable you would like to plant and to find the vegetable variety selector visit the aggie-horticulture website.
The next thing to do is to prepare your beds by tearing out spent crops and replacing the nutrients in your planting beds, by amending your soil, and by adding compost and fertilizer. Rotating crops will help avoid diseases specific to one plant type and will help to balance the nutrients in the soil. This rotation of crops and reusing of space is known as succession planting. It can increase and improve the quality of your harvest. Succession planting also refers to the simultaneous planting of a seed and its transplanted vegetable counterpart. For example, plant a green bean seedling and also plant the green bean seed. This method will both increase and spread out your harvest.
Because August and September can still be hot, be sure to protect tender shoots by screening them. Also keep the soil moist and mulched. Be sure to visit the aggie horticulture website for ideas and a wealth of information.