With all of the rain Oklahoma received earlier this year, some of you may just now be getting into the summer gardening groove. However, as we turn another page on the calendar, it’s time to start thinking about your fall garden.
These long, hot summer days will continue well into September, giving gardeners plenty of time to produce another crop of warm-season vegetables. It won’t be long, though, until those scorching temperatures will give way to cool nights and milder days, perfect for a fall crop of cool-season vegetables. The warm, sunny days are followed by cool nights which allow plants to convert more energy into delicious produce. The effort you put into your garden in the fall will allow you to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor later into the year.
If your summer garden was limited, it’s not too late to get a fresh start with some of your summer crops. Early August is an ideal time to establish a second stand of beans, cucumbers and summer squash. It’s also an ideal time to start winter squash and pumpkins for fall harvest. In addition, this is the time to transplant slower-maturing cold crops such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and carrots. Here at the beginning of August, gardeners can start to plant potatoes, beets, lettuce and turnips.
When selecting vegetables for fall plantings, choose varieties that have a short maturation period. Planting time will depend on the length of time needed to produce a crop. Tender vegetables must be started early enough to ensure harvest before frost. Other crops, mainly root crops, are hardy enough to be stored in place in the garden well into winter.
Because fall gardening begins during the driest months of the year, supplemental irrigation is a must to establish the plants. One way to make the best use of limited water supplies is to plant in furrows. Sow seeds in a narrow trench rather than at ground level. Apply irrigation only to this furrow to conserve water and help maintain adequate moisture for seed germination. Soaking seeds overnight will also aid germination. This can be done for any seed except beans and peas, which tend to crack from soaking.
Soil temperatures can be excessively hot during this establishment period. If you are starting seeds for transplant, you may wish to start these in a shaded location outside the vegetable garden, such as on a potting bench. In the garden, you can take steps to cool the soil by providing shade with shade cloth, boards or screens. And be sure to mulch around transplants to cool soils and conserve soil moisture.
One of the challenges to fall vegetable gardening is obtaining seeds and transplants at the appropriate times. Growing your own seedlings is one way to avoid this. Another option is to ask growers at your local farmers' market if they have transplants available for purchase. You can use seed remaining from spring and summer plantings as long as it has been stored in a cool, dry place such as a freezer or refrigerator.
It is a good idea to look ahead at your seed and transplant needs and determine if local sources are available or if you will need to order these from catalogue or online sources. Remember that fall onion, garlic and shallot plantings are just around the corner. This is a great time to order bulbs or set a few heads aside from your summer harvests to save as starts for next year’s crop.
Despite still being in the throws of summer heat, you know cooler temperatures are on the way when you’re planning your fall garden.