Last week I mentioned that August was a good time to plant all sorts of plants, but I failed to mention vegetables. It might seem hard to imagine that in the heat of August we would be planting vegetable crops that thrive in the cooler time of the year, but in reality this is the time to get them established. It won’t be long before the day and night temperatures of September will mimic those back in March and April, which are the perfect conditions to grow all of our root and shoot crops like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, kale, garlic, and chard, to name just a few.
Before the end of this month, garden centers will once again be stocking vegetable starts for planting into our raised beds (or wherever it is that you grow your veggies). If you have any room in the garden after you have pulled out your peas, onions, beets, lettuces, zucchini (yes, by late August you should be sick and tired of zucchini and ready to yank it up), you can plunge in some new transplants and in 6 to 8 weeks you will be eating fresh produce from the garden once again. You can also direct-sow root crops, like carrots and beets, and harvest them later in the winter or early in the spring.
Like any time we put new plants into the ground, it is essential to amend the soil with compost and enrich it with an organic fertilizer. Remember that whatever you had growing in that space consumed the nutrients in the soil and when you harvested it you removed those nutrients with the plant. In addition to compost and fertilizer, I also like to add some earthworm castings, some lime and a product called Azomite (this is a natural mineral product mined in Utah) that is rich in micro-nutrients. The bottom line is that it is incredibly important to get those new plants off to a good start and growing well before the soils cool down too much - adding lots of good food is the secret.
Once your crops are planted you should be in good shape during the months of September and October, but watch out when we get into November because we could have some serious frosts. A “frost blanket” is an inexpensive item that can be purchased at any garden center and when applied over the top of a crop will add at least 5 degrees of protection. You can also create temporary structures out of PVC pipes and cover them with clear plastic that will capture the heat from the sun and keep things growing nicely. Be sure to keep the ends open on the cloche to let air pass through (you can close them at night) and don’t forget that you will have to water inside, since the plastic cover will deflect the rain.
Growing a fall crop of veggies is largely a race against time and while we have no control over what Mother Nature will throw at us, if we plant early, prepare our soil and have some frost protection ready, then we should be able to expect a reasonable return on our efforts. It’s really no different than when we plant a cool season crop in the spring and hope to get it growing and harvested before it gets too hot. If you were successful in the spring, then you should be successful in the fall. And if you didn’t get the outcome you wanted or haven’t tried growing veggies before, it’s a fun experience and practice makes perfect - give it a shot! What have you got to lose?