By MELINDA MYERS
Now is the time to plan and plant vegetables for a bountiful fall harvest. Planting now extends the harvest season for greater yield without expanding the garden.
Start by looking for vacant spaces in the vegetable garden. Fill areas that were not planted this spring or replant rows of quick maturing vegetables like lettuce, spinach, radishes, and beets that have already been harvested. Expand your search to other vacant spaces in flowerbeds, mixed borders, and containers.
Select vegetables that will have sufficient time to reach maturity before your growing season ends. Simply count the number of days from planting to the date of the average first fall frost in your area. Those in frost-free areas can plant longer season crops that benefit from maturing during the cooler months of fall.
Second plantings can be started from seeds or plants, if available. Check the back of the seed packet or plant tag to find out how many days each plant variety needs to grow and produce. Add a few weeks to allow time for harvesting. As long as there is enough time for the seeds to sprout, grow, and produce before the end of your growing season, they can be added to the garden.
Fill your late season garden with lots of variety. Include root crops like beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips. Greens like leaf lettuce, spinach, collards, kale, and chard provide the basis for a great fall salad and some make great additions to stir fries. Try onions, kohlrabi, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and sweet corn for some variety. Just make sure the seeds or transplants will have enough time to grow and produce.
Some vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts taste better when grown and harvested during cooler months. These along with other vegetables like spinach, mustard, lettuce, radishes, and leeks tolerate a light frost, giving you a longer harvest season.
Wait for the soil to cool before planting lettuce and other vegetable seeds that require cooler temperatures to germinate. Or start the plants indoors and move them into the garden as transplants. Help keep the soil cool by mulching plantings with shredded leaves, evergreen needles, or other organic mulch.
Water your gardens as needed throughout the season. New plantings will need a bit more attention when establishing roots during the hot summer months.
Extend the harvest season with a bit of frost protection or added warmth as needed. Cover plantings with floating row covers that allow light and water through while trapping heat around the plants.
Cold frames and high tunnels are other options that allow you to plant earlier and harvest longer. You will find ready-to-purchase options or instructions for creating your own season extending growing system.
Midsummer planting adds a few extra weeks, even months, to your harvest season. You will enjoy the garden-fresh flavor while benefiting from the increased nutritional value of your fall meals.
(Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.)