The calendar turned to August, and that has me thinking about fall vegetables. Though autumn is weeks away, gardeners should make plans for the third season of vegetable gardening soon.
In the Piedmont, this third season – crops planted in late summer to produce in fall – often comes as a surprise to people who have not experienced it. Everybody gets into the act for the summer crops – tomatoes, squashes, melons, peppers and other favorites.
I call it the second season of the vegetable gardening year, following the opening act in early spring, when cool-weather crops such as leaf lettuce, spinach and peas get planted.
The palette of fall crops include some of those spring crops that produce their best in the cooling and shortening days of late summer. Getting into this third act will also make use of garden space that would be left blank once the summer crops fade and you yank them out of the bed.
Take Brussels sprouts, for example. This plant requires a definite chill in the air, which is usually around Thanksgiving, for best flavor in the little sprouts.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and collards are three crops to get going with young plants sold in garden centers. They prosper beautifully in the mild days of fall and even with the arrival of cold weather.
Seeds to plant
Some of the best plants to grow from seeds, such as leaf lettuce and spinach, can be sown every 10 days to two weeks in August and September.
Sowing short rows on this schedule ensures that you will not lose an entire crop to storms, rabbits, lack of attention or other disaster. You can also, in the early days of the fall season, sow leaf lettuce and spinach in pots where they can be kept close at hand, in a protected spot and easy to water every day or so during these hot days. You could transplant them eventually, but it is easier to keep them in pots.
You can make these plantings your early crop, then sow some more in the garden as space opens up and the weather gets cooler. Leaf lettuce and spinach are crops that make a very long season. Given a mild winter, they should keep producing.
However, root crops, which do very well in light, well-loosened soil, should go into the ground now. Seeds of beets and carrots should be sown by about mid-August. Watch the young seedlings carefully to keep them from drying out.