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Fall Planting

Rabbits don't like garlic

Spring planting did not go happily for me what with the rabbits coming along and eating  each little shoot as it came up. Since spring we have added new resources – a big fence around the vegetable garden, and row covers. Therefore I am going to try for a fall crop in ways that I have not before.

I took a look at the seeds I have leftover from the spring and realized that many of them can be harvested after a short season. Tango lettuce from High Mowing is ready as a baby lettuce in 28 days, and at full size in only 45 days. Renee’s Garden’s Wine Country Mesclun is ready in 40 days. Red Ace beet from Johnny’s Selected Seeds is mature in 50 days. Of course, if I don’t get mature beets, I’ll at least have a harvest of beet greens.

Champion radish from Agway is possibly ready in as little as 20 days, and the package says it can be planted as late  as September 30. Bloomsdale Long Standing spinach from Hart’s Seeds is ready for harvest in 45 days and is suitable for late summer planting. Cilantro is an herb that grows and ripens so fast that it is also a candidate for the late summer garden.

If I had thought ahead, I could have started broccoli seeds indoors and planted seedlings instead of seeds in this fall garden. If I had thought ahead I might be prepared with seeds of a whole variety of Asian greens like Tatsoi and Red Choi from Johnny’s. Both of these can be harvest as baby greens. Next year.

Encouraged by my review of my seeds I set to work. So far I have cleaned out one narrow weed infested bed. While other plants are struggling this droughty summer in Heath the weeds like it just fine. I have never seen so many weeds. But they are gone now. At least from that one bed. I added a load of compost and watered the bed.

The soil is so dry that I thought it wise to give it a good watering before I planted spinach, carrots, mesclun, and lettuce. Johnny’s Selected Seeds website (www.Johnnyseeds.com) has a great page that lists a good number of vegetables that can be planted in August and September. I don’t have all the specific varieties the page mentions, but all I need is a glance at my seed packages to tell how many days it will take for each variety to mature, or be ready to eat as a baby.

It is important to remember that the days are getting shorter and this means that vegetables will take a little longer to mature than listed.

Since I had such good luck using row covers to foil the rabbits, I am equipped to use them to protect this late planting from the frost. My row covers do not need hoops to hold them up. They float over the seedlings and vegetables as they grow and allow sun and rain to penetrate,  but not the frost.

Historically I have a long frost free season because the nearly constant breezes on our hill blow the early autumnal frost down the south slope and leave it on my neighbor’s garden.

No one will forget Irene on August 28 last year. After the storm unusually warm and rainy weather lasted until October 4 when we had our first frost here. Then the weather became mild again, with daytime temperatures in the 50s, until October 24 when I again noted a light frost in my garden journal. Then came the trick or treat snowstorm on October 29.

I think row covers will easily moderate fall weather long enough to get in a bonus harvest. Unless we have an even earlier snowstorm this year.

Not all the garden was over taken by weeds. We’ve been eating chard and various lettuces for weeks. I’m harvesting zucchini and summer squash. It would be a bad summer indeed if I didn’t get summer squash.  I have a beautiful garlic harvest drying on the piazza and I’m still harvesting two late plantings of lettuce. I picked my first cucumber this week.

Cherry tomatoes in a strawbale

The tomatoes in the vegetable garden are doing well, but are not nearly ripe. The cherry tomatoes I planted  in the straw bale are ripening, but the plants are not nearly as vigorous as the one in the garden. Leeks and onions are slowly coming along, but the bush beans should be ready any minute. You may think I am getting a very late summer harvest, but you have to remember all those hungry rabbits.

I am continuing to clean out weedy planting beds. Because weeds have been such a problem this year I am going to plant a green manure crop. I have never planted a cover crop before so this will be another experiment. Johnny’s has a fall green manure mix that will start growing now, but many of the plant varieties will winter kill. In the spring only the rye will revive. I’ll cut that down and then dig the winter rye and the other dead plants and roots into the soil. This will add nutrition and organic matter to the soil, and I hope it will also help control late summer and early spring weeds.

How has your garden handled the drought this year? Have you found new ways to meet the challenges of the  weather? I’d love to hear from readers. You can send questions and comments to me at commonweeder@gmail.com. I will reply to all questions and comments. ###

Between the Rows    August 4, 2012

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