Extend Your Growing Season: Plant a Fall Vegetable Garden!
Fall is an exciting time in southeastern North Carolina! We finally get a reprieve from the heat and humidity and the bugs are more tolerable, which means you can begin to reclaim the outdoors and get back in the garden; and now is the time to start a fall vegetable garden. If you typically grow a summer garden—tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, squash—and no fall garden, you are only getting half the production potential from your beds and are missing out on some tasty cool-season veggies.
Preparing your fall garden bed
Before you start your fall garden, it is important to first clean out any leftover plant debris and weed growth. Once the old crops have been removed, rototill or spade the soil 6-8 inches deep. Check to see that the soil is slightly moist and breaks apart easily in your hands. If this is not the case, amend with compost to help aerate the soil. If you have not already done so, test your soil to see if you need to make any pH or nutrient amendments. The ideal pH for a vegetable garden is in the 6.0-7.0 range. Remember: soil testing is free until December of this year so get your soil tested soon!
Deciding when and what to plant
September is prime time to get your fall garden started! Vegetables that thrive in the cooler months of fall include carrots, cabbage, radishes, beets, turnips, many leaf and head lettuce varieties, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower, just to name a few.
Before you plant, consider whether you need to purchase transplants or if seeds can be directly planted into the ground. Many vegetables such as carrots, radishes, spinach, mustard and other greens, can be sown directly into the garden. Vegetables like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower do best as transplants and should be set out sometime in mid- to late-September. Different plants will mature at different rates. Radishes, for example, will germinate in 6-10 days and mature in 25-30 days, while carrots take about 60-90 days to mature. For vegetables that mature quickly, you can sow a new batch every few weeks throughout the fall for season-long harvest.
Planting depth and spacing are also important and different vegetables have different requirements. Carrots are best planted in August or early September and should be seeded shallowly—consider “scratching” the surface of the soil and then covering with a garden rake. Carrots can also be planted closer together than larger vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower, which should be spaced 18 inches apart. Be sure to read the seed package for specific sowing depths and spacing for each vegetable.
Fall garden maintenance
A fall garden, like a summer garden, typically requires about an inch of water weekly. New transplants and seedlings require close monitoring the first few weeks and may need more frequent watering. Established plants should be watered deeply and infrequently—only once a week rather than every day or two. Just like summer, you will battle a new wave of cool-season weeds in your garden, including common chickweed, annual bluegrass, and gray cudweed. Control measures vary, but the best and easiest method is to pull them out by hand.
Even though most fall vegetables tolerate some frost, you can extend your growing season into December and even January by adding row covers, burlap, or milk jugs to add a protective barrier between your plants and the elements. PVC pipe can be bent into a half-circle and inserted into each side of the bed to add an arched support to hold up burlap, plastic, or other row cover fabrics.
Don’t let your garden get lazy this fall. If you are looking for something to do in the garden, consider planting some fall vegetables—you will be amazed at the amount of things you can grow (and eat) year-round!
For fall gardening and landscape care advice, visit http://ces.ncsu.edu, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Extension office. If you live in Pender County, call 259-1235. In New Hanover County, call 798-7660. In Brunswick County call 253-2610.