Gardeners' Dirt: Think fall gardening
By GERALD BLUDAU - Victoria County Master Gardener Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Sept. 15, 2011 at 4:15 a.m.
Well, gardening folks, I'm sitting in my air-conditioned home. It's 97 degrees outside, and I'm to write about fall gardening. There's something about 97 degrees and fall gardening that just don't seem to go together. As many of us living in South Texas know, the weather will cool down at some point - and fall gardening will be upon us.
Soil test - While the weather is still hot, there are many garden-related projects we can do. One of the most important is to test the soil in your garden area. I can't tell you enough about the importance of doing this. Just this past spring, my garden looked like it was one step from a compost pile. When I asked our County Agent Joe Janak to take a look, he said he felt I needed more nitrogen, and sure enough I side-dressed with some 21-0-0 and the plants responded very well. I also took this opportunity to do another soil test.
Seeds, garden tools and products - Some other get-ready-to-garden things you can do are seed purchasing, clean up and sharpening your gardening tools, and checking your organic or chemical products needed to control gardening problems.
FALL IS LONGER GROWING SEASON
Fall gardening offers a much longer growing season than the spring garden, but many times, we have a tendency to rush things a bit. I well remember the words of my dad, one of the best gardeners I've ever known, when I would ask, "Dad, can I plant this or that?" He would reply, "Yes, if you don't want to make anything." His reasoning was that it was too early.
There were times when I challenged him on this because as I have often mentioned in gardening talks, those seeds won't grow in a package, you have to stick them in the ground. I am an advocate of staggered and multiple planting of various crops.
PLANT SUMMER CROPS, FALL CROPS
One of the problems we have in South Texas is not knowing what to plant. We are fortunate to be able to plant both summer crops and fall or cool-weather crops in our area. If you wanted to plant fall tomatoes, they should have gone in the ground around Aug. 20.
They require shade protection, adequate moisture, and insect and pest control. Another crop that should have been in by Labor Day is Irish potatoes. Other vegetables that could be planted when the weather cools are summer squash, green beans, cucumbers and peppers.
COMMON COOL WEATHER CROPS
The most common fall or cool-weather crops planted in our area would be cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, turnips and radishes.
Vegetable varieties - When planting in our area, one frequently asked question is, "What varieties should I plant?" The website aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/lawn_garden/veg.html is a useful one. One of the tabs is "vegetable variety selection." Select the tab for "Region F," which is Central Coast, and you will find pages of vegetable varieties recommended for our area. This list will specify veggies that are warm-season or cool-season varieties.
COLE CROPS FROM SEEDS OR NURSERIES
When planting cole crops, you can plant seeds and raise your transplants, or you can buy them at the local feed stores or nurseries.
When sowing seeds for crops, such as carrots, lettuce, radishes and turnips, you should have your soil loose, and remember, these do not require more than inch of soil cover.
Helpful technique - The trick to raising carrots is getting them up. I suggest making a furrow the width of one hoe, about to inch deep, sow seeds, and use the back side of a garden rake to pull about to inch of soil over the seeds. Tamp the seeds with the rake and water frequently. Once the carrots are up, you can thin them. This same approach can be used when planting radishes, turnips, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli if you choose to raise your own plants.
When planting nursery plants, be sure to start with strong, healthy plants. Spacing on these should be 12 to 15 inches apart, wider for broccoli. Water thoroughly after planting, and press the soil firmly around each plant to eliminate air pockets around the roots.
Once your vegetables are up and growing, you need to maintain a good watering schedule. If this drought continues, it can be a daily routine. Many of the cool-season veggies respond to side-dressing with a blend of either organic or chemical fertilizer, depending on your soil analysis. The best time is when these plants are 4 to 6 inches in height.
When getting ready to harvest, make sure you don't let the vegetables over mature. Young, tender vegetables are better than old and tough ones.
There are many ways these wonderful veggies can be prepared for the table. Hopefully, we will be blessed with beneficial rainfall soon, so that planting and harvesting a fall garden will become a reality. Think fall, and happy gardening.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or email@example.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.