Start a Fall Vegetable Garden

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Spring is a great time to start a vegetable garden, but did you know that July and August can also be a great time to plant for a fall vegetable garden? Fall gardens might not have the same popularity as spring gardens, but there are many vegetables that can grow great as the weather cools; some will even continue deep into the winter months, stretching your harvest considerably. With a little preparation now, you can grow some nutritious produce at home this fall.

Before you plant a new garden, it always helps to do a little groundwork first. After choosing a good garden spot with full sun, be sure that you perform a soil test, unless you have already taken one in the past two years. You can pick up the soil test boxes at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Catawba County office in Newton, and testing is fee-free through N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services through Thanksgiving. The turnaround on tests this time of year is typically around two weeks, so you have plenty of time to get the results back before you plant. Once you receive your soil test results, you will know exactly what amendments, if any, you will need to make your soil garden ready.

The next step in preparing your garden is to draw out a design of where you will plant each type of vegetable. Keeping a design and strategy in a garden journal can help you remember where you have planted things, as well as help you plan out crop rotation. It’s important to rotate areas where you grow vegetables in the same family every year to reduce disease and insect pressures on your plants. If you can set up a rotation of three or more areas that you can move through every year, you will have better success with breaking the disease cycle in those areas. Remember to also not plant fall crops of the same plant family where you had them for the spring/summer.

When choosing what plants to include in your fall garden, remember to use those that enjoy the cooler weather. Vegetables in the mustard family work well in the fall: cauliflower, kale, broccoli, collards, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc. Leafy green vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, and root vegetables, such as carrots, turnips, and radishes, also grow well in the cooler months. Additionally, fall is a great time to plant onions and garlic for a spring harvest. You might even consider planting perennial asparagus that will grow through the winter and reward you with a late winter harvest year after year. Why not try growing something new to your family, and you will have a fun new vegetable to cook with this fall.

For planting, you have a couple of different options. Direct seeding can be problematic in our hot, dry summers. Seeds will need cooler soil with consistent moisture to germinate, so you may want to consider starting seeds indoors before transplanting them in the garden, or purchasing starter plants from one of our local garden centers. If you choose to directly seed into the ground, have some irrigation set up to keep the soil moist and consider shading the area with mulch or newspapers to keep the sun from heating the soil as much. Remember to keep your new plants watered well so that they get the best start in this heat.

Once your garden is planted, you will have a great fall harvest to look forward to picking soon. As the weather cools, and summer vegetables begin to decline, you can still have healthful, fresh produce directly from the yard. If you need help starting your fall garden, or have other gardening questions, call us at the Catawba County office of N.C. Cooperative Extension (828-465-8240). You can also join one of our free Gardening with Native Plants talks at the Conover Library August 21 at 4:00 p.m. or Claremont Library August 23 at 2:00 p.m. to learn more about basic gardening skills and utilizing native plants in the landscape.