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COLUMBIA–August and early September offer a reprieve from the scorching heat of summer and an opportunity to put vegetables on the dinner table well into fall.
Fall planting, sometime called succession planting, takes advantage of garden plots after summer crops are harvested and removed. Falling temperatures on the horizon means a fall crop often ends up higher in quality than produce grown in the spring and summer.
“Home vegetable gardening often yields a 25-to-1 return on investment,” said David Trinklein, a University of Missouri Extension horticulturist. “A fall garden can push that figure even higher while providing tasty, nutritious food”.
Succession planting begins with selecting the right crop. Since there is limited time until the first fall frost, choose either crops that mature quickly or ones that hold up against freezing temperatures without severe damage.
Bush beans, bush cucumbers and summer squash often will bear fruit if planted before late August. These fast-growing plants will have a chance to produce before the weather catches up to them. With a little luck and a fall that is warm and long, these vegetables will reward the gardener with a good crop.
Some vegetables can withstand a light frost. Beets, Chinese cabbage, collards, lettuce (leaf and Bibb types), spinach and Swiss chard are some cool-season crops that thrive in the fall like they do in early spring.
Leftover seed potatoes can also be planted and while they won’t produce a bumper crop, they will produce fresh, small potatoes to eat in the fall. Trinklein notes that gardeners should not plant recently harvested potatoes and that fall potatoes do not store well.
Then you have broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and turnips. These hardiest of vegetables will withstand even lower temperatures and provide a bountiful harvest well into the fall or early winter. Trinklein recommends planting transplants for broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower because there’s not enough time for them to fully mature from seeds directly sown in the garden in the fall.
Peas are another option, but are riskier due to their longer maturity. Snow peas are the best bet because their pods can be eaten at any stage if an early frost cuts short the growing season.
Preparing a garden plot for a fall planting begins with clearing the previous crop.
“Sanitation is the first step in disease and insect management in the garden,” Trinklein said. “Carefully removing the entire previous crop and cleaning up plant debris can go a long way to lessen pest problems in the fall garden.”
Lightly till soil and add a general-purpose fertilizer such as a 5-10-5 or 12-12-12 mix. (These numbers represent the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, in that order, contained in the fertilizer.)
Seeds sown in the fall should be planted slightly deeper than they would normally be planted in the spring and watered immediately. For crops grown from transplants such as cabbage, transplanting in late afternoon or early evening reduces transplant shock. Increasing plant spacing will accelerate growth.
Vegetables need 1-2 inches of water per week. If weather is dry, some watering will be required. Avoid watering leaves to reduce the chance of foliage diseases. Since rust and fungal diseases thrive on heat, they are less of a problem in the fall, but you should continue to monitor plants for disease and insect damage.
Using row cover can add a few extra degrees of protection against frost. Floating row cover is a translucent, spun polyester material that traps the soil’s latent heat underneath it when it is spread over plants. Since sunlight can pass through, it can be left in place for several days during a cold snap. This product is relatively inexpensive, can be found at many local gardening stores and can be reused for several years.
With the right preparation, love and attention, a fall garden can feed the body and soul.
“Gardening is good for the ‘inner self’,” Trinklein said. “Working in the garden eases tension, restores our spirit and tends to make us feel good about ourselves.”