Monday, August 20, 2012

School Days, Cool Days...It's Time for Fall Crops.


It's quiet. Eerily quiet. No Wii battles. No Harry Potter marathon. No endless rationalizing about why we need a horse.

Except for the dogs' whining, the only sound is the chirping of birds. With the balcony door wide open, the cool 64 degree breeze is airing out the house from the smell of bacon and pancakes.

How can today be the first day of school?

Seriously, I'd like to time travel back to the end of May and enjoy another summer vacation with the kids. Instead, we're back to reality. Schedules, enforced bedtimes, and homework just aren't as much fun as Scrabble tournaments, beach trips, and after dark swim-fests.

In a blink of an eye, summer vanished. In a blink of an eye, my babies are now a college senior, a sixth grader, and a second grader.

Impossible. (Notice the lack of back-to-school photo for the college boy? He didn't even want help moving back to school. Sniff.)

While I wallow in mom-angst, I must get busy. Although summer doesn't end until September 22, it's time to prep for fall gardening.

Honestly, I'm ready to rip out the summer garden. By late July, the garden looked ratty. Fortunately, it still produced well, which is the point of a vegetable garden, isn't it? Still, I dreaded when a friend or acquaintance wanted to visit the garden. By August, the plants looked so horrific that I found it difficult to visit the garden. The wilting tomato vines and spotty, overgrown cucumber plants depressed me. So now, here we are, August 20, and I have no qualms about ripping out the ugliness to replace it with lovely, fresh cool weather crops.

The problem is—I need to grow my fall garden transplants.

Yesterday, I spent three hours scrubbing seed trays. Naturally, the seed trays should be washed, bleached, rinsed again, and put away after spring planting. In an ideal world, I would open the greenhouse and find immaculate seed trays awaiting seed starting mix and seeds.

But this is my world.

Instead, my back aches from Saturday's marathon tray scrubbing session while the kids played in the pool.

Next time, child labor may be involved.

Now that the trays are clean and disinfected, it's time to check the planting schedule.

The most important consideration when planning your fall garden is: when is the first frost expected for your area? If you don't know the approximate frost date, you can contact your local extension service or enter your zip code here.

In our area, we expect frost by mid October—approximately October 15.

For a few of the veggies I plan to add to the garden, like Brussels sprouts for Peter, I'm a little behind schedule. But Brussels sprouts actually taste better after exposure to frost, so I might be OK. I hope.

Because I'm starting the fall garden from seeds, it's important to consider how long each variety takes for germination, as well as days to harvest. Although cool season crops can survive some frosts—and even freezing temperatures with protection—the plants need to be established and mature before the first hard freeze. 

Today, because I'm in the thick of seed starting, I thought I'd share the following information for your use when planning your fall garden. The following table will give you an idea of how long it will take for your cool weather veggie seeds to germinate, what temperature and depth is best for germination, and how long until your crop is ready for harvest.

Armed with your average first frost date, you can then calculate when to start your fall garden seeds.

Crop
Soil Temperature for Germination
Min./Best/Max.
Seed 
Planting Depth
Days to Germinate
Days to Harvest
Arugula
40-70-80
1/4”
5-7
40-45
Beets
40-80-90
1/2”
7-10
50-60
Broccoli
40-80-90
1/2”
3-10
65
Brussels Sprout
40-75-80
1/4”
5-10
90-100
Cabbage
40-80-90
1/2”
3-10
60-80
Carrots
40-80-90
1/8”-3/8”
10-17
60-70
Cauliflower
40-80-90
1/2”
3-10
60-70
Collards
40-75-90
1/2”-3/4”
5-10
60-70
Kale
40-75-80
1/4”
3-10
60-70
Kohlrabi
40-80-90
1/4”
3-10
50
Leek
40-80-90
1/4”
7-12
120
Lettuce, Head
35-70-70
1/4”
4-10
55-70
Lettuce, Leaf
35-70-70
1/4”
4-10
45-70
Mustard
40-70-80
1/2”
5-10
40-60
Onions, Bunching
35-80-90
1/2”
7-12
60
Onions, Globe
35-80-90
1/2”-3/4”
7-12
110
Pac Choy
40-75-80
1/4”
4-7
45-50
Parsnip
35-70-90
1/3”
15-25
70
Peas
40-70-80
1/2”- 1”
6-15
65
Radish
40-80-90
1/2”
3-10
30
Rutabaga
40-75-80
1/2”
7-10
100-110
Spinach
40-70-70
1/2”
6-14
40
Swiss Chard
40-85-95
1/2”
7-10
60
Turnip
40-80-100
1/4”-1/2”
3-10
50

(FYI: A few of my favorite sources for organic, heirloom seeds are Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Sow True Seeds, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.)

For example, my first frost is projected for October 15. If I want a good harvest of leaf lettuce, I'll need to plant by September 1.

Yikes. I need to clean out the gardens!

So, now you know when to start your seeds, what the temperature requirements are for germination, how deep to plant the seeds, how long it will take until your babies make an appearance, and when you can start feasting! But—should you start your seeds in containers, or direct seed into the garden?

Some plants don't like their roots disturbed. Beets, carrots, chard, peas, and spinach should be direct seeded in the garden or started in biodegradable pots. Some plants, like Brussels sprouts, require a long time until maturity and benefit from an early start in containers or trays. Also, by starting seeds in containers, you can continue to enjoy your productive summer garden without needing to make space for fall crops too early.

(Of course, if your garden looks like ours, you might be ready to clear it out and direct seed everything.)

You can find a quick refresher on what supplies you need and how to start growing your seeds indoors here.

Over the next few weeks, I'll highlight some fall crops—what to watch for regarding pests and diseases, how to tend, how to harvest...and especially, how to enjoy the bounty.

What are you planning to grow in your fall garden? Any favorites, or are you trying some new varieties? And—as always, if you have any questions about starting your seeds, please let me know!

Happy sowing!

XO ~

Julie

8 comments:

  1. Sept first??? Yikes. Where did the summer go? I know September 1 is just around the corner. I haven't decided if I am going to try any cool season crops. I am such a bad container waterer....well, I have two weeks to decide right?
    The kids look nice all ready for school. Hard to believe school has started already, in VA they start Tuesday after Labor Day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Janet, isn't it crazy how quickly the summer flew? I have serious garden work to get done before I can plant anything--eek!

      Delete
  2. Happy First day of school to you guys!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And to you and your kids too, Jessie!

      Delete
  3. My third and fifth grader started school on Aug. 6th! My college senior starts today...like you didn't want help moving, etc. All grown up and almost independent! Thanks for the reminder and details about fall sowing! I am going to try growing Brussels Sprouts and Mustard Greens this fall. Thank goodness for the cooler temperatures. I can actually start getting in the mood for fall!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Aw, your kids are so very sweet! Time sure does pass by fast.

    Your first frost date is the exact same as ours! Your fall crops look great!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great tips and planting schedule! I added a link to your article on our blog post http://rurallivingtoday.com/gardens/growing-fresh-veggies-fall-winter-part-4/

    Marie

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love your tips. I recently moved into a house with a nice sized yard. I have NEVER planted any sort of crops and usually my plants die...I grew tomatoes and it worked so now I am a little more comfortable...I cant wait to begin planting my fall crops. Your tips are very good and extremely easy to understand. thank you!

    ReplyDelete