KC Gardens

Prepare now for fall vegetable garden

Broccoli Submitted photo

From Dennis Patton:

The vegetable garden had a wonderful spring and early summer season. The cooler conditions and timely rain made growing fresh vegetable almost too easy. I know at the Patton house we had a great harvest of broccoli and fresh green beans.

Unfortunately, when the heat of summer arrives many gardens begin to wilt. But for you diehard gardeners, those that enjoy harvesting and eating fresh from the garden, don’t overlook the fall season. Planting vegetables now is a great way to extend your harvest into the fall.

There are many advantages to gardening later in the season. Insect pests tend to be less of an issue in late summer and fall. Vegetables that mature during cool fall days are often better flavored than those that mature in the hot, dry days of summer. In addition, many vegetables can be left in the garden and used as needed during the winter months.

When to Plant

Planting dates depend on two factors: how long the crop takes to develop, and the crop’s frost/freeze tolerance. Some crops like broccoli and cauliflower take a little longer and should be planted in late July or early August. Lettuce, spinach and radishes take less time to develop and can be planted in late August through early September. Although it can be difficult to predict the exact date, the average first frost in the Kansas City area occurs around mid-October.

What to Plant

Crops that are best adapted to the fall season are mainly cool-season crops. However, beans, cucumbers and summer squash can also be grown as fall crops. Of the cool season crops, growing peas and onions in the fall should be avoided. Peas require cool temperatures for germination and do not adapt well to the warm summer weather.

Crops to include in your fall garden include cole crops such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. These can be planted from seed or transplant. Beets, turnips and carrots are root crops perfect for growing.

Various lettuces, spinaches and kale can be planted in August through mid-September when temperatures cool off as we enter fall.

Establishing Seedlings

The most difficult challenge of fall gardening is establishing the seedlings. The hot, dry summer winds and sun can quickly dry out the soil. Timely watering is the key to success. The good news is that seeds planted in the warm soils germinate more rapidly, speeding up the whole establishment process. The addition of a light layer of mulch will also help shade the soil to retain moisture. The last trick is maybe to sow the seeds just a little deeper in the soil to keep them moist.

Gardening Practices

Here is the great thing about fall gardening and that is if you know how to tend plants in the spring, fall will be even easier, once the plants are established. There are no special tricks — plants will tolerate the late summer warm conditions to establish, but then will thrive under the warm fall days and cool nights.

So even though you might have sworn off gardening because of the August heat, now is a good time to adventure out. Early in the morning or just at sunset is the best time to beat the heat and plant a fall vegetable garden. I promise that when you are munching on a freshly harvested radish or eating a bowl of lettuce this fall you will glad you did.