If the wet April of the past spring kept you from planting a successful spring garden, fall is the time to try the process in reverse by planting a fall garden. Many spring vegetables grow well during the shorter days of fall which are usually accompanied by cool nights. The fall garden is often done in a more scattered way, filling places in the garden where spring or summer crops have been harvested. Fall vegetables may even be used to fill any bare spaces in the flower garden that may no longer be attractive. Red cabbage, lettuce, kale or Chinese cabbage all have leaves that make attractive and edible flower garden plants.
Most vegetables for the fall garden are leaf and root crops. Those that must go through the flowering and fruiting process to produce a crop hardly have enough time, particularly if cold weather arrives early in fall. However, for those who want to try the gamble, a late crop of bush beans or edible-podded peas, such as the snow peas, might be worth a try. With adequate moisture and fertility, these plants will grow rapidly and stand a good chance of success. However, do not expect too much. Any pests or intense heat that could slow growth or a very early fall could mean little or no harvest from them.
For another chance, even crops such as cucumbers or summer squash grow very quickly in the heat of August and might produce a small harvest if warm weather persists. In selecting cucumbers for late planting, the bush types or gynecious varieties should be used since they start production quicker than standard varieties. Pest control is important for these crops. If there is an abundant supply of cucumber beetles or squash bugs in the area, it may be practically impossible to get the small plants off to a good start without very persistent pest control.
The cool season crops will be the best and most rewarding vegetables for the late fall garden. Cool season crops are beets, collards, leaf lettuce or semi-heading, bibb-type lettuce varieties, radishes, spinach and Swiss chard. Cabbage, broccoli, Chinese cabbage or cauliflower might be some others to try, but seeds should have been sown earlier or plants must now be purchased for setting into the garden in the near future. Other crops may be grown from seeds planted directly into the garden now or during the next few weeks. Many of the cool season crops that can be seeded in August should be ready for harvest in October.
Crops that can tolerate the coldest temperatures have an extended season and a good chance for success. Crops that can endure temperatures down to close to 20 degrees are cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, turnips and kale. These plants, along with Chinese cabbage, are the cool season crops that take the longest time to reach harvest size. They can be damaged by very low temperatures although not killed, so should be harvested or protected if temperatures are expected to drop below about 25 degrees F.
One of the most difficult parts of fall gardening is getting seeds planted into the garden to germinate well during the heat of August. Keeping the soil surface moist to lower its temperature through evaporation is important. Mulch can help, but cannot be deep over the actual row where seeds are germinating. A cloth cover over the row that is moistened frequently can help. Shade over the row, as from tents made of newspaper which is anchored down, is a possibility. Any shading material must be removed promptly after germination or seedlings will be thin from too much shade and be easily damaged after removal. Never use plastic as a cover since too much heat will build up beneath it.
When planting the seeds for the fall garden, plant more than you would in spring. There will not be time for a second planting if seeds do not germinate well. Too many seedlings can easily be thinned. For rapid growth of the fall crop, an adequate supply of moisture and fertility is necessary. Ample nitrogen is important for leafy crops such as cabbage, kale, lettuce and spinach. About two weeks after transplanting or four weeks after seeding, sidedress the leafy vegetables with a high nitrogen all-purpose fertilizer sprinkled along the row about 4 to 6 inches from the plants at a rate of about 4 tablespoons per 10 feet of row. Root crops should not have a high nitrogen fertilizer, but a common garden fertilizer with lower nitrogen (such as 5-10-5) might be used for them at about the same rate.