Plant now for fresh produce this fall

August 27, 2020

Coalfield Progress Homespun

By Sharon Daniels

If you hurry, there’s still time to plant a fall garden and harvest fresh produce before frosts and cold temperatures arrive.

Tomatoes, bush beans and cucumbers are out of the question, but new greens and a few other vegetables will be welcome.

Fall gardening often is easier, as there are fewer pests and problems. Crops listed here can be produced in seven to eight weeks. Seven weeks remain from this week to the traditional first date for frost, October 15, although in some years we don’t have frost until a bit later in parts of our area, zone 6.

You won’t find many starter plants at garden centers this late in the year, but cool-season vegetable seeds can be direct-sown to take advantage of the final days of summer’s warmth. Note that cabbage seeds should be started indoors.

Seed packets will disappear from garden centers very soon, but if they remain available, read packet instructions to find fast-maturing spinach, leeks, radishes, mustard greens, turnips and collard greens.

Other possibilities (read the packets) are beets, lettuce, Swiss chard and Chinese cabbage. Chinese cabbage needs heavy soil which holds moisture. It also can be planted in January for a spring crop, and it makes a welcome addition to salads.

Kale should produce if planted six to eight weeks before frost. It actually gets sweeter after a frost or two.

Parsley is marginal for planting now but it has multiple uses in the kitchen. It is best started indoors by soaking seeds overnight to speed germination.

Spinach should be ready to harvest in about eight weeks. You can harvest outer leaves as soon as they are several inches long, and continue until the plant starts to flower or is killed by a hard frost.

Turnips take about 60 days from planting to maturity but they can be left in the ground, with several inches of mulch on top, and harvested through the winter as wanted.

Try both kinds of garlic. Softneck garlic has smaller cloves and keeps longer. When the plant dies down, the bulb and stem can be braided for keeping. Hardneck garlic stems die to a rigid stick which makes braiding impossible.

Plant cloves root-side down eight inches apart in loose, fertile soil, with tips buried two inches down. When green shoots appear, mulch around them with straw. When a hard freeze kills shoots, mulch the entire bed. In spring pull mulch away when you see new shoots, keep the bed weeded and water only if soil is dry two or more inches down. Don’t pour water directly on plant crowns.

Bunching onions will grow in fall, become dormant over winter, then multiply in spring to form clumps.

Also consider scallions, kohlrabi and bok choy.

Sharon Daniels is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer.