Garden Variety: Start planting vegetables now to get fall harvest crop
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Radishes, turnips, spinach, lettuce, kale, arugula, mustard and other greens can be planted from now until about mid-September in the Lawrence area for an easy and delicious fall crop.
Find a space that is in the sun for at least half the day — full sun all day is best. If you live in an apartment, or with a lot of shade, or the lawn or landscape is simply unfavorable for planting vegetables, try containers. Large flower pots, grow bags, and window-box planters all work well for leafy greens and radishes. The only downside to planting in pots is that the vegetables may be more affected by cold temperatures than if they were planted in the ground.
When selecting what veggies to plant, stick to leafy greens like those mentioned above or other favorites, radishes (including daikon) and turnips. Carrots and beets might produce a crop if you get them planted ASAP, but they are better planted in late July to early August. However, cabbage and its relatives, including Brussels sprouts are best planted by July 31.
Once you have seeds and are ready to plant, thoroughly wet the soil where the crops will be planted. Then loosen the soil with a rake, shovel, cultivator, etc. When ready for planting, soil should be moist and crumbly to a depth of at least a few inches.
To plant, read the instructions on the seed packet, then plant seeds slightly deeper than directed (unless the packet has instructions specific to fall planting). Planting deeper helps protect tiny seeds from extreme heat and temperature fluctuations that often occur in August.
After covering the seeds with soil, add a thin layer of compost, sand or vermiculite (a component of potting soil that may be sold individually and can usually be found in garden centers). The extra layer adds additional insulation for temperature fluctuations as well as reducing water loss from evaporation.
Keep the soil moist by watering deeply. This is one case where a lot of watering may be warranted — once seeds pop open, the tender seedlings that emerge will need frequent water applications to keep from cooking in the hot August sun.
As soon as the greens are big enough to harvest and eat, you can begin clipping them. Cutting leaves will result in more leaves being produced. Some people can taste a difference between first and second cuttings in greens, but there are also differences between spring- and fall-produced crops and specific growing conditions.
Radishes, turnips, carrots and beets should be thinned when seedlings are a few inches tall to allow room for root development. If you dislike thinning, try doing it anyway but rinse the seedlings that you pull and throw them on a salad. Radish seedlings are particularly tasty. Then, watch for formation of the underground roots and begin harvest as soon as it is worthwhile.
Remember when planting that rows are unnecessary. Especially if planting in pots or raised beds, broadcast the seed over an area and allow it to grow in blocks rather than rows. This practice helps to maximize available space.
All the vegetables mentioned above can withstand light frost. When cooler temperatures arrive, try mulching around the plants with straw, prairie hay, or other similar materials to insulate even more. Row covers used when freezing temperatures arrive can prolong the season even more.
Cabbage and its relatives including Brussels sprouts and kale, along with carrots and turnips are extremely cold hardy. Harvest carrots and turnips as needed. The ones that withstand winter temperatures are often sweeter than those produced at other times of year.
In very mild winters, these extremely cold-hardy vegetables may even make it through the winter. Remember to water during extended dry periods when temperatures are above freezing.
— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.