Thursday, August 30, 2012
Fall Garden FAQ's
I don't consider myself an expert on fall gardening, but enough people have asked me questions about it lately that I thought I would post the few things I do know here on the ol' blog.
1.) Is it too late to start a fall garden?
If you live near me, in the California bay area, I'm pretty sure you still have time to plant some fall veggies. You probably don't have time to grow brussels sprouts because they take so long to grow, but other fall veggies still stand a reasonable chance. It stays relatively warm and sunny here until very late in the year, and all that sun gives the seeds a good chance to germinate and grow before the cold winter weather sets in. Last year I got the urge to plant sunflowers LATE in the season - you are supposed to plant them in the spring along with other spring veggies. I took a chance and put my seeds in the ground in early September - and they grew and flowered! All that to say: around here the conditions for growing things are pretty ideal. Give it a try and see how it goes.
2.) OK, so what should I plant?
Your best bet for fall veggies are broccoli, cauliflower (both of which I have not yet successfully grown in the fall, but I've heard they do well so I'm trying them this year), carrots, beets, kale, radish, swiss chard, cabbage, and lettuce. Last year I planted Kale and Swiss Chard and they overwintered, giving us fresh greens through the entire winter. It was awesome!
3.) Should I plant seedlings or just put seeds in the ground?
I garden exclusively with seeds, but this is also a good time to get seedlings at your local nursery. Some plants like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, are traditionally sprouted into seedlings before being planted out into the garden. I have never had much luck with seedlings - they usually linger in the garden not growing for a LONG time once I plant them, and are eventually bypassed by any seeds I planted in the dirt next to them. If you have a green thumb, though, the seedlings will give you a head-start on growing time.
This year I planted cauliflower seeds directly in the ground (about 10 days ago) and they have all germinated and are growing quickly. The beet and broccoli seeds I planted 3 weeks ago didn't germinate (maybe it was too hot and dry?) so I replanted them a week ago and now they are sprouting. Yesterday I planted lettuce seeds and have my fingers crossed - lettuce usually likes cooler weather in order to germinate so it may still be too hot. The great thing about gardening with seeds is that it is always easy to try again - just scatter a new batch of seeds if the first ones don't pop up within a couple of weeks.
4.) I'm convinced! So where do I buy some seeds?
My go-to seed store is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They sell exclusively open-pollinated seeds which I greatly prefer. They haven't been genetically altered like many commercially-sold seeds you can buy, and there are tons of exotic varieties of vegetables available that are not sold anywhere. You could easily grow vegetables that you would never be able to eat otherwise. This is a great article about the benefits of non-GMO, open pollinated seeds which is definitely worth a read if you are considering growing anything that you plan to eat.
One other thing to bear in mind as you plan your fall garden: club root disease. Club Root is a fungus that lives in your soil that will destroy cole crops (kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) and is almost impossible to get rid of once you have an infestation. The trick to avoiding this dreaded soil condition is to rotate your cole crops. This fall, don't plant any of your cole crops where you grew cole crops in the spring. Also, don't plant any cole crops where you plan to plant cole crops next spring. I planted all my broccoli and cauliflower seeds in former zucchini beds, and plan to grow peas there next spring. From what I've read, rotation is the key.
Hopefully you're feeling inspired to get out in the dirt and grow some yummy veggies for your family this fall. Let me know what you plant and how it's going! And as always, I can use as many gardening tips as you have. :)