Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
It seems like we just got started with our summer succession plantings, laid out the drip irrigation and finished mulching everything in sight, but it’s already time to start planting our Fall and Winter garden, even if it is 105°F degrees! We’re sowing broccoli, cabbage, kale and other brassicas that will mature in the cool fall weather. If we want to have a glorious second spring in September that carries us through the holidays, into winter and on, not stopping until after spring crops are producing “baby greens,” then we need to start planting now in our zone 7 garden. For help timing your fall garden, contact your local Master Gardener group or county extension office. Southern Exposure also has several fall planting guides on our website to help you out.
As insurance against fickle weather, I usually make at least two planting of broccoli and cabbage seedlings for my fall garden. Frankly, vegetable plants don’t care what season it is, as long as their basic growing conditions are met. When it is 100°F for days in a row, you have to make it cooler. The soil temperature should be 85°F or lower to get normal seedlings. If you have space to start seedlings inside in flats that might be sufficient, as long as they are kept moist and get enough light once the seedlings emerge. I need to start a lot of plants, so I use these simple tricks for sowing brassica nursery beds outdoors:
- I start my brassicas outdoors in a rich, specially prepared seedling bed in a partially shaded area that still has 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. We have trees just in the right place. Corn or tall trellised tomatoes can provide enough shade.
- I cool the soil by watering the bed thoroughly one week before planting, again the day before planting, and immediately after planting.
- I cover the planted area with a piece of salvaged window screen to keep it cooler and moist. Remove the screen as soon as the tiny seedlings emerge.
- To protect the emerging seedlings from flea beetles, grasshoppers and other insect pests, I use a lightweight spun polyester row cover, supported by hoops.
- I water daily until the seedlings emerge, then check daily and water as needed.
Lettuce responds well to similar treatment and may need to be planted in the early evening and watered with cold water or ice the first evening after planting to get good germination.
Fall peas is another crop many gardeners don’t plant because it is so hot when they need to be started, but fall peas are easy! Just presoak the seeds the night before planting, then just before planting fill the drill with water and let it soak in. The seeds will have plenty of water to germinate. All the summer starting tips for brassicas apply to peas as well.
Gardeners in warmer climates of the coastal and lower South generally are able to grow “fall vegetables” all winter long. Colder or mountainous areas of the Southeast, on the other hand, have a shortened growing season in late summer, before hard freezes begin. Elliot Coleman is my guru for winter gardening. If he could do it in Maine, it should be easy in Virginia.
In addition to the cool weather, vegetable gardeners in most
of the Southeast have time to make more succession
plantings of summer crops like cucumber, beans, summer squash and corn. In
the late summer and fall it is best to choose quick maturing varieties that can
be harvested before growth slows too much when the days shorten and the
temperature cool off in the fall.
It is not time yet to plant garlic and perennial onions but it is time to order your bulbs and plan so that you will have well prepared space when the time comes to plant your garlic in October. Those of you interested in adding perennial vegetables to your garden might enjoy reading Kelly Winterton’s online booklet All About Potato Onions. I think everyone interested in food self sufficiency should give one of the other onions like Egyptian Onions, White Multipliers, or Yellow Potato Onions a try.
One of my favorite summer meals doesn’t involve cooking at all. Try making 2 slices of fresh homemade bread spread with homemade mayonnaise, topped with slices from one small Yellow Potato onion and one large heirloom tomato, plus garden fresh lettuce and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!
Thanks for stopping by and we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’re growing and cooking. ___________________________________________________________________
Ira Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+varieties of Non-GMO, open pollinated and organic seeds. Ira is also a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the Mother Earth News Fairs and many other events throughout the Southeast. Her first book the "The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast" will be available in 2013 .