Falling for Autumn
With the coming of August, many people begin to long for the breezy days and pleasant nights of autumn. Images of pumpkins, leaf-covered lawns, and cozy fireplaces begin to coat social media with expectancy. For people who love growing flowers, vegetables, and fruits, August signals a turning point in the gardening calendar. Preparations begin for the perfect fall garden, gloves come out, and sleeves roll down.
For this special blog post, we spoke with a natural homestead farmer, to find out any tips or tricks she could share about preparing the fall garden. She had other tips about autumn work for spring planting preparation; we’ve included those, as well. For more about her homestead, check out her website.
When is the best time to plant leafy vegetables?
“For the perfect salad garden, make plans for at least two different varieties of lettuce. Lettuces are cool-weather crops, and if planted while the soil and ambient air temperatures are still too warm (over 75° F, in most cases), they will not put on enough edible leaf growth, and will instead go directly to seed. This is also called bolting. If you know how tiny lettuce seeds are, this should terrify you. Bolting produces millions of seeds per plant, and they will often fall from the seedstalk before you can get rid of them. You will be fighting volunteer lettuce in your garden patch for months, if not years, if that happens. For most regions in the Midwest and south, late August or early September is early enough for the lettuce to grow well and develop large heads of crisp green leaves, and late enough that the temperatures begin cooling down before the lettuce decides to bolt.”
How do I provide the best chance for my carrots to grow right?
“Carrots and other root vegetables require a loose, non-compacted, fertile soil bed. In many areas in the lower Midwest and south, clay is the predominant soil characteristic. This means it is not quite suited for carrots and tasty tubers without some help from you, the gardener. (There are some heirloom carrot varieties now that do better than others in clay soils. They are generally short in length, and have a very stumpy look, which allows them to shove their way into a dense, clay-based soil.) The best method is a staged, steady incorporation of organic matter (compost) over months. This loosens the general structure of the soil, and provides the ongoing fertility to ensure your roots develop healthily and thoroughly. You can choose to compost-in-place, by working fresh-fallen leaves or grass clippings into your bed, as you collect them. Another option is to systematically incorporate composted materials at strategic timings. Late August would be a good starting point, and then again at the same time you direct-sow the root-vegetable seeds. Another good tip is to keep from walking on, leaning on, or in any way compacting the soil in your root vegetable bed. Make your beds narrow enough to reach the far side without putting pressure in the bed from your hands, feet, knees, or tools.”
What kinds of maintenance is best to complete in fall?
“Around our homestead, we are constantly digging new beds, or revamping old beds, in the fall. Fall is the best time to evaluate and prepare your entire garden for the next spring and summer. This can include adding compost or composting-in-place, digging new beds or extending current beds, and mulching or otherwise compacting walkways and non-growth areas. You can also go over your previous growing season, and determine what you want to do again, or things you want to do differently. Seed catalogs begin shipment at the end of summer, and these books of ideas are great ways to determine the direction you want to go next year. If you are not planting a fall garden, adding fertility to your beds, making more garden space, and prepping your work areas for the next spring and summer are the best tasks for fall.
“Fall is a great time to look back on a year well-spent, and figure out where you want your garden to go for next year. With that in mind, take it easy, and enjoy the fruits of your harvest. You worked hard, so pat yourself on the back, and take a breath. Lean back, sip some lemonade, and enjoy the turning of the year. You’ve earned it.”
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