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Despite the heat of summer, it will soon be time to plan the fall garden

POSTED: July 29, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Joe Fudge/Newport News Daily Press

Connor Horne holds a handful of beets from a garden on the campus William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

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If the thought of harvesting the last of your summer crops has you going through gardening withdrawal, there’s no reason to fret.

Mid to late summer is the ideal time to start a fall garden, or a "second season" crop of your favorite cool-season vegetables and flowers, according to Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden and the nonprofit Home Garden Seed Association.

Even where winters are cold and the ground freezes hard, many vegetables can still be grown to maturity before first frost.

For edibles, try beets, cilantro, lettuce, radish, spinach, kale, peas, salad greens, Swiss chard, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, onions, leeks, parsley
and arugula.

When choosing varieties, select ones that are fast-maturing to insure a harvest before cold weather hits.

The key to growing vegetables for fall harvest is timing. Vegetables grown in the fall need about 14 extra days to mature compared with spring-seeded crops due to fall’s shorter days, cooling soil and less intense sunshine.

When deciding the date to start your veggies, first determine your average first frost date. Then look at the seed packet for days to maturity. Add 14 days to that number, then use that figure to calculate back to seed-starting date.

In Hall County the first frost is around Oct. 15, says Michael Wheeler, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension coordinator.

For instance, take spinach plants that take 42 days to mature. In order to have a fall harvest, they need to be planted 56 days before the Oct. 15 first frost date. Meaning your plants need to be in the ground by Aug. 20 at the latest.

To make sure your fall crops have the best chance of survival, Wheeler suggests making a few preparations before planting new seeds or plants.

"I would suggest taking a soil sample now to ensure soil nutrients and soil pH are in good shape. Also make a diagram of where (crops are planted) so you can rotate planting spaces from year to year," Wheeler said.

"If you have never done so, incorporate 2-3 inches of composted material into the garden area. This will allow the plants to establish a strong root system in the
softer soil.

"The quicker the plants can establish a root system, the stronger and healthier they will be later in the season. Mulch the garden to help with weed control and to conserve moisture."

Sowing seeds or setting out transplants in mid-summer can be more stressful to young plants than seeding during cooler and often wetter spring weather. Keep the soil moist as seeds are germinating.

Protect young seedlings with shade cloth or plant them near taller plants, such as corn or tomatoes to provide shade from the hot afternoon sun. Another option is to start seeds in containers in a spot with bright light and then transplant young seedlings into the garden.

This works well for crops like lettuce and spinach, whose seeds don’t germinate as well when soil temperatures are high.

With a little effort in late summer, you’ll eat well in fall because crops such as kale, lettuce, spinach and broccoli thrive in the lower temperatures.

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services contributed to this article



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