There is something deeply satisfying about harvesting vine-ripened tomatoes and cooking them with fresh basil. But starting a vegetable garden takes research, planning, physical work and attention to detail.
You also need a spot that gets full sun (6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day) and that is not shaded by trees. The soil should be rich and healthy – a mix of clay, sand and silt (or loam) is ideal.
August is the time to get started, so here are some tips for planning and planting
Now that the cooler days of autumn are just around the corner, it’s time to plan and plant your fall vegetable garden. (photo by Penn State Extension)
CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Now that the cooler days of autumn are just around the corner, it’s time to plan and plant your fall vegetable garden. Even a small patch can yield fresh produce from the garden well into fall and even winter, which is not only healthy, it’s also fun and satisfying.
August is the time to get started, so here are some tips for planning and planting a fall vegetable garden now:
- Vegetables that are semi-hardy or hardy are the best choices, as they will tolerate light to hard frost. These include leafy greens such as leaf lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard; cabbage family members such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, and cabbage; and root vegetables such as radish, carrot, turnip, beet, and parsnip.
- Choose varieties of these crops that are noted for cold hardiness and quick maturity (fewest days to harvest). This information will be listed on the seed packet or in the seed catalog. However, the selection of seeds available for planting now is more limited than in spring.
- Transplants of cool-season crops, such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, may be available now at garden centers. Using transplants provides more time for the plants to mature. Be sure you are selecting edible, and not ornamental, varieties of cabbage and kale.
- Timely planting is the key to a successful harvest. Crops need sufficient time to grow and mature before the weather becomes too cold to continue growth. The average first frost date for this region is sometime around October 20. Using the days to maturity, count back from this date to figure the approximate date for sowing seeds. Add another two weeks to account for the “Fall Factor” – the fact that plants grow more slowly during cooler weather and shorter days.
- To prepare an area in the garden for fall planting, clear it of spent crops and weeds. To restore nutrients used up by previous crops, add a thin layer of compost or aged manure. You may also apply a complete fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden. Spade in or lightly till the area; excessive tilling can destroy soil structure and increase surface soil crusting.
- Soil in the late summer is often hot and very dry, which is not good for seed germination. Moisten the soil lightly a day or two before sowing seeds and plant the seeds slightly deeper than recommended for spring planting. Once planted, water them in thoroughly, and then use a light mulch or covering of vermiculite or compost to prevent soil crusting. You can also shade the soil with row covers to keep it cool and moist until the seeds germinate.
- For newly emerged seedlings and transplants, use a mulch such as straw to keep the soil moist and cool. It’s important, though, that the plants get as much sunlight as possible, so be sure the mulch is covering the soil and not engulfing the young plants.
- Keep the seedlings and transplants well-watered. Most vegetables need an inch of water per week to grow well. Less frequent, deep watering is preferable to daily light watering; but these young plants may need more frequent, light watering, especially during hot spells, until their roots are established.
- Even after the first frost, we often have several weeks of “Indian summer” weather which is ideal for cool-season crops. Be prepared to provide some frost protection, using a thicker layer of mulch or row covers, so that you can continue to harvest even after several frosts.
With these tips in mind, you can be harvesting produce from your garden long after the last tomato of the season. How about fresh greens from the garden on Thanksgiving?
–Annette MaCoy, Penn State Extension