Over the past few weeks, I have been planting crops that can stand up to cold weather to harvest in fall and winter. So far, I’ve planted carrots (four kinds), beets, winter radishes, escarole, heading chicories, radicchio, kale, and cabbage.
Still to be planted: more escarole and other chicories, lettuces, more winter radishes and beets, a few turnips, cilantro, and many kinds of salad radishes. Arugula will go into containers to grow, so it won’t need space in my in-ground garden.
We start the fall crops in summer?
I know, it seems weird to plant our “cool season” crops in hot weather. However, planting in August and early September gives the crops their best chance to reach harvest-stage before December.
If your fall planting gets a late start (like now, or next week), that is not a disaster. It just means that some of your crops might not be ready for harvest until late winter or early spring. Also, some crops, like the more tender lettuces, might not survive into January.
Gardeners can adjust a bit for a late start by choosing varieties that mature more quickly than others. Most of my carrot varieties this year mature in about 70-75 days (“days to harvest” listed on the seed packets). I planted them all a couple of weeks ago.
Some varieties mature in less time. ‘Little finger’ carrots, for example, mature in about 55 days. If planted now, they could be harvested in about two months.
Protecting the seedlings
I am looking forward to cooking with the new escaroles and other chicories in this year’s garden. However, many hazards await our cool-season crops in late summer. One is the risk of drying out in the hot sun. My seedlings get water, from a watering can, almost every morning while they are small.
When they are larger, and I am confident that their roots reach deep enough that they are protected from the worst heat and from the quick-drying surface of the garden, the seedings will get less frequent watering.
Snails, slugs, and roly-polies
Even though the weather is dry, and the forecast is for more dry, snails and roly-polies are still present in my garden. Both of those pests are known seedling-eaters. To protect the emerging seedlings, I sprinkled a little iron phosphate bait (Sluggo – organic-approved – this one includes spinosad) on the seeded areas.
The chicory family crops (escarole, heading chicories, radicchio) are planted within rings formed by the tops of paper cups.
I cut off the lower half of each cup, then pressed the top part into into the soil, about an inch down. The seeds are planted inside the cylinders, to remind me where they are. This keeps me from “weeding” them out of the garden by accident.
Moths, butterflies, and their hungry caterpillar babies
My cabbage family plants — the kale (not yet emerged) and two tiny cabbages — are under netting. I put the netting over the area immediately after planting, to protect these crops from cabbage moths and cabbage butterflies.
The bird netting over my support-structure has large enough holes (5/8 inch) that some insects, like ladybugs, can get through. The holes are small enough, though, that the cabbage moths and butterflies cannot get to my plants, which keeps them from laying eggs on them. No eggs, no caterpillars.
Fall planting continues
Assorted summer crops are still producing good food, which means they continue to take space in the garden. Planting for fall crops, for me at least, is a hodge-podge affair as a result.
The first patch of chicory family plants is in the space that held Southern peas earlier this summer. The carrots and some beets are in the spot that held zucchini. Winter radishes are in the spot vacated by an heirloom tomato. Kale and cabbages are in the space previously held by pole beans.
The space taken by the Swiss chard and the late-planted ‘winterkeeper’ tomato will not be available for planting until after the first freeze, unless horrible things happen to them (always possible) before then.
By the time a hard freeze arrives, though, some of my cool-season crops will already be coming into the kitchen.
How are your fall garden plantings coming along?