Thursday, August 7, 2014

Prepare to plant the fall garden

I know it is too hot to think about fall, but it is time to plan the fall garden and to start some seeds to grow into transplants to put out later in the fall.  Many months of warm weather remain before the first fall frost arrives, so there is also plenty of time to plant more crops of beans, crowder peas, basil, dill, cilantro, cucumbers, and winter squash, among other heat-loving plants, before frost arrives.  If your first attempt at a summer garden failed, try again.  Sometimes pests that attack plants early in the season have moved on later in the season. 

I will not try to set out any plants soon, but I plan to sow some seeds in the garden within the next couple of weeks, as soon as I can find a place clear of other crops.  I will start the seeds while it is still hot instead of waiting for cooler temperatures because the plants need time to become established before cooler weather comes.  If I wait until late September when the weather cools and I naturally start thinking about the fall garden, frost will damage the baby plants.  Older plants tolerate frost.
Before I sow any seeds during hot weather, I soak the soil with water.  After I plant the seeds, I water them very gently, and continue to water them gently once or twice a day, depending on rainfall, until they germinate.  Mature plants, with deep roots, need infrequent, long soakings.  Seeds, which are only in the top inch or less of soil, need only enough water to keep the top inch or so of soil moist.  They need gentle mists of water, because vigorous water applications will wash the seeds away.  To reduce watering chores, consider laying moistened strips of cardboard on top of the seeds; just make sure to remove it when the seeds germinate. 

After I sow the seeds, I put metal hoops across a garden row and I lay shade cloth across them, pinning it down with clothespins.  Shade cloth is available at garden centers or at www.groworganic.com.  Old sheets will work also; use something that blocks the hottest rays of the sun while allowing some light.   
When they seeds sprout, I continue to keep the soil moist, but I gradually wean them off such frequent watering so they will develop deep roots.   I leave the shade cloth up until the weather becomes cooler, and I gradually expose the seedlings to brighter sunlight.  If the seedlings look too tall and spindly, they are not getting enough sunlight. 

Within the next few weeks, sow seeds outdoors for beets, carrots, collards, and rutabagas for the fall, and sow seeds of summer vegetables listed earlier.  You may begin sowing seeds of kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower indoors.  Keep the baby seedlings inside, under grow lights, and away from scorching temperatures until the weather cools. 
Outdoors, continue to sow seeds of carrots, beets, chard, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, parsnips, radishes, spinach, and turnips.   Keep the soil moist through frequently misting the soil with water, provide shade as needed, and you should have a garden ready for harvest throughout the fall and winter.   

 For information about what to plant when, and which plants to sow indoors and outdoors at different times of the year for an ongoing harvest, visit the Mother Earth News website.  Through succession planting, which is having another crop ready for the garden when the previous one is finished, I can harvest something from my garden every day of the year.

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