In the garden

Growing a fall vegetable garden

Harvesting vegetables out of your own garden is very satisfying. Vegetables you grow yourself just seem to taste better, and it’s particularly nice to know they also help reduce the grocery bill.

You can continue to enjoy home-grown vegetables until first frost or, in some cases, until several weeks after the first freeze if you begin putting a fall vegetable garden in now.

In Central Virginia, the first frost usually occurs around Oct. 15, so early August is the right time to begin planning and planting.

“We’ll start our seeds during the next couple of weeks,” says Henrico Master Gardener Robin Bryant, who’s planning a fall garden with residents at the home where she works as a counselor. “It will be time to take out our squash, and that frees up a big space for planting.”

Last year Bryant raised fall crops of lettuce, beets, collards, turnips and kale in her garden. “Some crops will even overwinter here,” she says. “Last year, I thought the kale was dead and started to pull it out, but my boyfriend suggested we leave it in, and it came back in the spring.”

Many vegetables can be grown in the fall, and the flavor of some, such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, Jerusalem artichokes, and Brussels sprouts may actually be improved after a frost.

If they’re mulched, kale, spinach, onions, lettuce, parsley, parsnips, carrots and salsify can be enjoyed throughout the winter.

Before planting fall crops, you may need to restore nutrients removed by spring and summer crops by adding compost or a light application of a complete chemical fertilizer to your soil.

Seeds need to be planted in moist soil so plant after a rain or water thoroughly the day before. The Virginia Extension Service recommends sprouting seeds indoors before planting for a fall garden. Sprouted seeds can be planted deeper than normal which helps prevent them from drying out.

Bryant hasn’t tried sprouting her seeds before planting, but she agrees that attentive watering is a must, especially after seedlings begin to appear. “You have to keep watering,” says Bryant. “Water, water, water, every day, sometimes even twice a day, or the little seedlings are not going to make it.”

Insects may not pose the same problems in fall vegetables because their peak activity is usually in mid-summer, but you’ll still need to check the plants periodically. Rotating crops so that those in the same family are not put back into the same space in the garden can also help prevent disease and pest problems.

“When I was a child gardening with my father, we only had a summer garden,” says Bryant. “But when I became a master gardener, I learned about fall gardens and started planting them.”

“We really enjoy our gardens,” she adds.

Fall gardens help optimize production from your gardening space, and they can be an opportunity to try again if something you planted in the spring didn’t grow. As Henrico Extension Agent Lisa Sanderson says, “Gardening is always a lovely learning experience.”
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