Soon you’ll be harvesting basketfuls of produce, happily overrun with tomatoes and sneaking giant zucchini onto unsuspecting neighbors’ porches. Then you’re done, right?
Maybe not. Before you hang up those garden tools, think about extending your garden season right into fall and winter. Peas, beans, broccoli, greens and root vegetables such as carrots can sail right through cooler weather.
Why bother? You get fresh, healthy, homegrown food several months longer. Many pests and diseases diminish or disappear as it gets cooler. Best of all, some crops taste better with a nip of frost, including carrots, kale, Brussels sprouts and turnips.
Fall gardening is a bit different than spring and summer gardening, but the basics are the same. Timing is important. So, follow the fall planting dates on a good chart like the one on our website at http://extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click on library, publications, vegetables, then HG16, “Planting Dates for Vegetable Crops in MD.” Check out the Grow It Eat It tab, too.
You’ll see that seeds for many crops can go in right now, mid-July to mid-August. Savvy gardeners snap up extra seeds in spring to plant later, but you can still find some at shops. Gardeners are a generous lot, so ask friends for their extras. And look to garden centers for transplants (small plants) that you can pop right in the ground for a speedy start.
OK, so where do you plant these fall crops while your garden is still going great guns? Make room by pulling out spent crops like peas and lettuce or start a nursery bed just for the newbies. Just remember that summer heat dries soil faster, so be diligent with your watering.
Your soil might be depleted from feeding all those early crops, so give it a boost before planting your fall crops. Add compost and a bit of fertilizer to renew and build the soil.
What should you plant? As always, plant what you like. Brassicas such as cabbage, kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts love cooler weather. Plenty of greens can tough out lower temperatures such as spinach, chard, lettuce, endive, radicchio and Asian greens.
Root crops thrive in cold weather, protected by the soil they’re growing in. Leeks, carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips and rutabagas all do well. Cover them with 8 to 12 inches of straw after a hard freeze to protect the roots and make them easier to harvest when the ground is frozen.
Peas and bush beans are classic cold weather crops you can plant now and harvest late. And let’s not forget radishes, those classics that make you want to crunch a bunch.
Cold frames and row covers help to stretch your season, too. To learn more about them and get more tips, attend the master gardener workshop on vegetable garden season extension on Tuesday, Aug. 13, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center on Sharpsburg Pike in Boonsboro.
It’s free, but you need to register by calling 301-791-1304 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland in Washington County. She can be reached at 301-791-1604 or email@example.com.