We normally associate cabbage, carrots and broccoli with the spring garden. However, these and other vegetables can grow quite well in the fall. If the hot weather and high humidity of summer has not deterred your gardening enthusiasm, try planting a fall vegetable garden this month.
For the next few weeks, vegetables such as beans, beets, carrots, and potatoes can be seeded. Likewise, transplants of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower will grow nicely. And in a few weeks, lettuce, radishes, spinach and turnips can be planted for a bountiful late season harvest.
Fall has long been my preferred season for vegetable gardening. Seeds will germinate and grow more quickly than in spring. In fact, you can usually have crops up and growing in just a few days.
Transplants will grow new roots and begin shoot growth almost the next day after planting. Insects, diseases and weeds are much less severe than early in the season. And cool air temperatures mixed with warm soil temperatures mean the crops mature rapidly and have better flavor.
Planning and planting the garden are simple. Use varieties that have proved to do well in our area. Do not work the ground extensively or add large amounts of organic material. With the heat and dryness, you want to conserve as much soil moisture as possible.
To plant the crops, simply scratch the soil surface enough to create a good soil bed. Save your compost and other goodies for late fall after everything has been harvested. If weeds or other plant debris is left over from a previous crop, mow it off and till it under lightly. Allow three to five days for the matter to dry and then plant away.
The only major downfall of fall gardening is keeping the garden watered. In a dry year, such as this, you will have to supply frequent waterings until the crops are well established. To help minimize the stress, it is best if you plant the seeds about twice as deep as you would for a spring garden. Not only is there more soil moisture down there, but the soil is also a bit cooler so the seeds do not dry out as quickly.
Likewise, use a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch between the rows and around emerging plants. The mulch will help cool the soil and conserve the valuable soil moisture.
As the garden grows, it will not require any special cultural techniques. Weeds may develop, requiring cultivation. Insect and disease pests may develop, requiring specific control measures, but these situations are ones that develop routinely in any gardening system. The best part of the fall garden is the fresh produce well into the fall.
Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.