Gardeners dreaming of frost-touched collards, sweet winter roots, crisp fall lettuce and huge heads of broccoli need to get busy planning and planting now. Here in central Virginia and further north it is already time to start transplanting cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower seedlings started earlier in late June or July. Lettuce, winter roots, kale, Oriental and other leafy greens can be planted starting in July and continuing into September. Gardeners in the Carolinas, coastal Virginia and further south still have enough time to start all Brassica seedlings. For more precise planting dates in your area talk with experienced gardening neighbors or consult a fall planting schedule from your local Master Gardeners or state extension service. For some great tips and detailed info on fall timing in Virginia and the Carolinas see Southern Exposure’s Fall/Winter Growing Guide by Ken Bezilla or catch his Zero Degree Gardening workshop at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, September 13, 2014.
To keep the harvest coming through summer into fall and winter is a real juggling act. Begin by reviewing your plans for summer successions and starting seedlings for fall and winter vegetables. Take into account special considerations for fall: impending frosts and the decreasing temperatures and daylight. The liberal use of transplants helps with the transition from summer abundance to fall plenty in our Southern Exposure Seed Exchange trial garden beds. See our earlier post on Fall Planning and Planting for more tips on calculating the right time to sow and choosing the best crops for your fall garden.
Take care of the soil before you plant. Successfully growing multiple crops in one year means paying extra attention to building the soil. Before fall planting add generous amounts of compost and any other amendments recommended by your most recent soil test.
Cover crops are especially important for four season organic gardeners. Ideally set aside one or more beds for summer cover crops like crowder peas, sun hemp, or buckwheat. Avoid bare soil in the fall and winter garden: plant fall and winter cover crops like oats, rye, vetch, or winter peas in any areas not being used for crops. We under sow corn and broccoli with clover to get a head start on our fall cover crop. In summer, we plant buckwheat in areas that will be open as little as 5 weeks to suppress weeds and add organic matter. Harvey Ussery points out some of the special benefits of these quick growing warm weather plants in Best Summer Cover Crops.
In Virginia, North Carolina and nearby states summer planting for fall and winter harvest starts in June with Brussels sprouts and accelerates in July with sowing seed for broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, cauliflower, and oriental greens to be transplanted to their final location after four weeks. Lettuce and Oriental greens are ready to move in only 2-3 weeks during mid-summer in Virginia and the Carolinas.
Seedlings for fall plantings can be started in flats on benches high enough up (3 feet) to deter flea beetles, under spun polyester row cover, or in an enclosed shade structure. At our Southern Exposure Trial Gardens in Central Virginia we prefer to use outdoor seedling beds well supplied with compost in a location shaded from the harsh afternoon sun. The north side of a stand of corn, caged tomatoes, or pole bean trellis makes an excellent choice. Outdoor seedling beds should be covered with thin spun polyester row cover or the newer Proteknet row cover to guard against flea beetles and other insects. Transplanting makes for a faster turnaround when garden space becomes available.
Don’t forget to plant a last summer succession of quick maturing beans, corn, squash, and cucumbers in late June or early July to mature and harvest just before frost. Keep plants growing fast and reduce risk of disease by providing regular and adequate moisture (1 inch per week).
In July and early August we direct sow chard, creasy greens, carrots, beets, winter radishes, and other roots. In the cases of lettuce and carrots summer succession plantings meld seamlessly into our fall garden plantings. Later in August and early September sow kale, arugula, turnips, rutabagas, spinach, and lots more lettuce. Make a late September sowing of kale and spinach to winter over as smaller plants under row cover, then make rapid growth in the lengthening days of early spring during what used to be called “the hunger gap” in March and April. Use row covers, cold frames or later plantings in a greenhouse to further extend the growing season. Leave plenty of room in the garden to plant garlic and perennial onions mid-October through Thanksgiving.
Ira Wallace works, lives, and gardens at Acorn Community Farm home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange where she coordinates variety selection and new 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 Virginia Association for Biological Farming. She is a frequent presenter at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS and many other events throughout the Southeast. Her new book The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast is available online and at booksellers everywhere.