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Now is the time to start thinking about how to extend your vegetable harvest so fresh veggies can be brought to the table during the fall months and beyond. Many cool-season favorites like carrots, lettuces, radishes, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale mustard, collard greens, turnips, cabbage, Swiss chard, and more can easily be started now for a fall garden. There is still time for a few of our summer veggies such as tomatoes, peppers, peas, lima beans, beets, squash, and more.
It is exciting to think that we can have a garden almost all year. Depending on what you choose to pant, you will either set out starts or sow seeds directly into the ground late July to mid-August. The NC State Extension Garden Planting Calendar for Annual Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs in North Carolina is a good reference to follow. The seed packet will also list the days to maturity for that vegetable. Keep in mind that vegetables may take a little longer to mature in late fall. As a rule of thumb, gardeners should plan on planting a minimum of 4-6 weeks before the first frost. The average first frost in Surry County is October 15. Allowing this time helps give winter-hardy plants time to establish before it gets too cool.
Cool-season herbs such as parsley, dill, and cilantro are best when direct-sewn into prepared soil beginning early to mid-August. The same applies to most all the greens, spinach, turnips, carrots, radishes, and beets. Greens can be started indoors and then transplanted outside for an earlier harvest, but gardeners may find they do not have enough indoor space for this. Root vegetables prefer to be direct seeded.
Direct seeding takes a little preparation. Cultivate the soil and make into a smooth seed bed. Seed should be sowed in one to two-foot-wide patches or may be sowed in single rows. Because soils are warmer and drier in the fall, these plantings generally require sowing seeds twice as deep as they would be sown in the springtime. This will prevent the seeds from drying out which may result in poor germination. Once the seeds germinate, seedlings will need to be thinned. Thinning helps create space between the plants so they can maximize resources needed for growth.
If broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower transplants are not easily located, they can be started indoors approximately five weeks before you plant to set them out. Lettuce can be started indoors or wait until cooler temperature to sow outdoors. It does not germinate well in temperature about 75°F. When choosing varieties, select cold-hardy leafy green and root varieties since they overwinter well. “Red Russian” kale is very cold-hard. There are other vegetables and varieties that are designed for winter hardiness. Check out seed company catalog descriptions to help determine which varieties are the most cold-hardy. If you want to be able to harvest during cold snaps, plan to protect them with row covers, horticulture fabrics that allow light transmission and provide a few degrees of protection. Most crops will be frozen during a hard freeze, but you can often leave them in the ground deep into winter or through the winter, protected with mulch or row covers, and harvest as needed.
Fall garden attract more insects than spring gardens. Be prepared for identifying and managing these pests in the garden. Future articles will address specific pests that may be encountered.