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Ding! Time to get a jump on a fall garden

OK, it’s mid-July here at Chez Siberia and it’s been horrifically hot. And dry. And the garden is not, shall we say, looking its best. We’re still harvesting but there are parts of beds that have been picked over, harvested out. There are lettuces that have bolted. (the photo above is basil – which does not look picked over or harvested out – but I’m going to start taking cuttings anyway so that I have fresh basil this winter)

In short, time to clear the decks to start things for a fall garden.

Even here, in Zone 3 to 4 (on the USDA map, it shows us as 5b; I hedge my bets and call it a 3 to a 4 given the topography), I’ve got a good 10-12 weeks before I give up the ghost on gardening. And with some judicious use of row covers and hardy crops, I can extend things past October as well. There is nothing like eating veggies from your garden on Thanksgiving Day.

Small digression: I just found this neato Interactive zip code-based USDA zone map here: zip code USDA map

Back to the matter at hand: Fall garden. The trick with a fall garden is to remember what you were growing in the early spring and repeat. Hot weather items like tomatoes and peppers are not something you can start in July and get anything out of by October – between the temperatures falling and the amount of sunlight falling, you are basically out of luck. But in terms of things like greens or cabbage family veggies, you are very much good to go:
Lettuces of all sorts
Chinese cabbages/bok choy/ etc.
Just make sure that the bed is well watered when you sow the seeds and that you keep it well watered until the seeds sprout. And choose items with low ‘days to harvest’ dates.

In addition, you can still take a stab right now with items that need nice warm soil and with a bit of luck will be bearing as the end of the season arrives, such as beans.

If you have herbs growing in the garden and the plants are just going nuts, now is a great time to take cuttings and pot them up to bring them into the house for a window sill garden for the fall. Items like rosemary are sort of woody but if you use the new growth at the top and water it well, it should root for you. Additionally, items such as basil or mints are from the same family as coleus, which you can even root in a glass of water. What I’ll do with the basil above is to take a good 2-3″ cutting, dust it with a bit of rooting hormone and stick in some sterile medium in a nice shady place. Once it’s rooted, I’ll repot them up to take into my sun room for the fall and winter.

So, if you have an area in your garden that is past its best, needs to be weeded and cleared out or frankly just looks tired, here’s the drill for a fall garden:

Weed the garden thoroughly.

Using a garden fork, spade it over completely.

If you can get your hands on some compost, cover the area with several inches and spade that in as well.

Water thoroughly. And by that, I mean water it so that if you dug a hole several inches deep, the soil would be moist there. This will take a good bit of watering, trust me; this is not a ‘stand there with a drink in one hand and the hose in the other and when the drink is done, you are done.” If you have an oscillating sprinkler, set it on low in the evening, and leave it going for several hours.

Set your seeds in rows as thickly as you can – you will transplant them once they are up and have the second set of leaves.

If you are having hot, dry weather, tent the area loosely with newspapers or row cover or an old sheer curtain or something like that – this will keep the moisture close to the soil and will help prevent the soil from drying out. If the soil dries out, you will not get very good germination, if you get any at all. Sowing seeds at this time of the year is a little bit dicey – you really need to keep watering on a regular basis every evening or two unless you are getting regular rains (which no one is getting right now, so just take the time to do it – sit on the porch and watch the hummingbirds at the flowers and enjoy).

Seeds: If you ran through all your seeds this spring already, get thee to the local home/garden center, feed store, farm store or whatever and look for seeds. If you don’t see the display, ask the manager if it’s been put away and if there are any seeds left. You should be able to get some of this year’s seeds. They might not be at their best – they’ve been sitting out on the display since February or March – but if you keep the bed watered well, you should get some germination.

At the same time – and do this before you forget – you’ll thank me in the spring – go online to your usual sources. Whether it’s Parks or Burpee or Pine Tree Garden Seeds or whoever it is you usually use, check the site and see if they still have seeds available and order a whole list of lettuces, kales, cabbage family plants, Chinese cabbages, etc. Anything they list for early spring or fall planting. Order that NOW – and when it arrives, put the whole shebang, closed up, in a ziplock™ bag or a closed jar in your fridge. Now you have seeds to start with in the early spring. You will feel gloriously superior for being prepared.

Also – check sources for garlic bulbs and onion plants for growing. If you want to start garlic this fall, you will want to order early enough to catch the harvest (which is starting NOW) to have your bulbs ready to take apart to plant after your first frost. If they also have onion plants for planting in the fall (usually bunching onions work for this), get some of these and get them started this fall too – then you will have two good early starts for next year and you will have scallions to use and eat early in the spring.

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  1. Suzanne says:

    what kinda stuff can i seed in pots aunt toby?

  2. Toby Wollin says:

    ok..put into pots….put into pots….
    For sure: leaf lettuces of all sorts, kale, Chinese mustard, beets (for the greens), chard, spinach too.
    For ‘try’: beets (leave some for baby beets), onion seeds (you’ll at least get onion ‘greens’ out of it), the easier herbs like basil, mint, and dill. Fennel (use some of the greens and then let the bulbs mature).

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