Gardeners' Dirt: Get ready for fall gardening
By Gerald Bludau - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Aug. 8, 2013 at 3:08 a.m.
Every year, when it gets to be late July or August, I begin to look forward to fall gardening. To me, it evokes the feeling of cooler times ahead; the first norther, geese flying south for the winter, holidays and all the veggies we can prepare for those holiday meals.
Get ready to garden task
While the weather is still hot, there are many garden-related projects we can do. Among those, you may consider planning, preparing the beds and adding compost to amend the soil.
Test the soil
One of the most important tasks is to test the soil in your garden area. I can't tell you enough of the importance of doing this.
Some years ago, my garden was not thriving when I was told it needed more nitrogen. I side-dressed it with some 21-0-0, and the plants responded very well.
You may contact your local AgriLife Extension office for more information and materials on how to test your soil.
Longer growing season in fall
One of the benefits of fall gardening is that it offers a much longer growing season than the spring garden. Sometimes, however, we have a tendency to try and rush our fall garden.
My dad, one of the best gardeners I've ever known, would say, "Yes, you can plant now - that is, if you don't want to make anything." His reasoning was that it was too early to plant.
I have often mentioned in my gardening talks to the community that seeds won't grow in a package; you have to stick them in the ground. But, they cannot be rushed. I am an advocate of staggered and multiple planting of various crops.
Plant summer, 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 want to plant fall tomatoes, they should be in the ground by Aug. 20. They will require shade protection, adequate moisture, insect and pest control.
Another crop that should be in the ground by Labor Day is Irish potatoes. Other vegetables that can 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.
When planting in our area, one frequently asked question is, "What varieties should I plant?" The Aggie Horticulture website 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 warm-season or cool-season varieties.
Cole crops (cabbages) from seed or nurseries
When planting cole crops, you can plant seeds and raise your transplants, or you can buy them at the local feed store 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 an inch of soil cover.
The trick to raising carrots is getting good emergence after planting. I suggest making a furrow the width of one hoe, about an inch deep; sow seeds and use the back side of the garden rake to pull about an inch of soil to cover 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 use 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. 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 to side-dress a plant is when it is 4 to 6 inches in height.
When getting ready to harvest, make sure you don't let your plants 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. I don't know about you, but I am looking forward to a happy 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.