Monday, August 21, 2006

What's Growin' On: 8/21/06

Planting For Fall

Baby Beets

Realization Of The Day:
A few Detroit beet seedlings survived last week's Attack Of The Digging Dogs.

Several of you have asked me to write about fall planting in the garden. Since technically this blog is my personal garden journal, I'm going to tackle this subject from the perspective of my own garden (meaning I'm finally getting around to making note of what I've been doing). But I'll also do my best to offer tips and advice for those of you considering extending your gardening season into the cooler months this year.

Officially my garden is located in Zone 6, but because our farm is tucked several hundred feet down in a little valley, it's really more like Zone 5. We often have frost earlier and later than the Zone 6 dates of October 15th and April 15th, and I've seen the thermometer on the front yard fence drop down to -15F in the winter. (We checked it with binoculars from the safety of the house.)

Of course no matter where you live, it is possible to trick your plants into thinking that brisk air isn't as cold outside as they think. Walk-in greenhouses, makeshift mini greenhouses (check the comments section in that link for my notes regarding construction), and temporary hoop houses can all be used to effectively extend the growing season and protect more tender plants from frost. Even a length of inexpensive, floating row cover (sometimes called Reemay) draped over your plants at night (and during the day if necessary) gives you 5 extra degreesF of heat--and sometimes that can mean the difference between fine and fatal.

I love my floating row covers. I have yards and yards of the stuff and use it for everything from protecting young seedlings from early spring frosts to hiding tender bush bean plants from Cary and the deer. I bought mine from (my favorite) Pinetree Garden Seeds. It is 67 inches wide and you can buy whatever length you like for 28 cents per foot (10 foot minimum). For those of you unfamiliar with floating row covers, here is Pinetree's description:

"This polyester crop cover material has some advantages over the Reemay we've carried for years. The UV resistance has improved, it is softer and less abrasive, it's much stronger in both tension and tear tests and the heat retention is better. Still made of white, UV resistant spun bonded polyester, it is lighter weight and designed to hold in heat while transmitting 70% of light through for adequate crop growth. Placed directly on crops without support, it requires no tending and water readily passes through it. It also retards insects when the edges are buried."

Just be sure to remove it when your plants are flowering if they require pollinators. I have been using the same pieces of floating row cover for years and they're still in pretty good shape, but of course now I want some of this better stuff.

On to the actual planting. Overall, our weather isn't conducive to fall gardening. It's simply too hot when it's time to start cool season crops (it's the end of August and we're looking at temps in the mid 90s for at least the rest of the week), and then it will turn cold before anything has had much of a chance to grow. Besides the hardy crops such as chard and beets I keep alive throughout the winter in my greenhouse and perhaps some turnips or kale or endive outside, I don't usually try for much of a fall harvest. This year, however, I've decided to do some experimenting (partly to use up a bunch of old seeds I didn't want to just toss out). For example, this is the first time I've ever had broccoli seedlings in the ground in August. I sowed them in a mostly shaded plot, and they came up pretty thickly, so I think I'll transplant some of them to a sunnier location once they're a little bigger and it cools down.

I actually direct seeded all kinds of stuff back on August 8th, but (for various reasons) my success rate sucked, so I'm going to replant. I don't think it's too late. For the record, here is what I did start (knowing full well that if they did sprout, some things--like the lettuce--might perish in the heat, and others--like the pole beans--probably wouldn't have time to mature and produce a crop before being killed off by frost):

Front Left Bed (short rows: left to right, looking south):
1. Beets
--Detroit (63 days, Baker Creek 2006 seeds)
--Crosby's Egyptian (BC, 2006)
--Bull's Blood (BC, 2006)

2. Pole Beans
--Romano (Pinetree Garden Seeds, 1998, flat Italian type, 70 days)
--Purple Trionfo Violetto (PT, 2002, "a great nutty sweet flavor," 60 days)

What's Growin' On Now: Most of bed dug up by the dogs on 8/13/06. No sign of any beans. Beets all sprouted within a couple of days; some Detroit seedlings & a few Bull's Blood lived through the attack.

Front Second Bed (long rows: north to south, looking south):
1. Batavian Full Heart Endive (BC, 2006)
2. Red Russian Kale (PT, 2006, tender 3 foot reddish green leaves "best after a frost," 58 days--I've grown this many times but have never cooked it, just tossed the leaves in salads, somehow forgot to start any seeds in the spring; NOTE it is not super cold hardy like most kales)
3. Nero di Toscana or Black Tree Cabbage (BC, 2005 & 2006--another personal favorite, still have a small patch planted in the spring struggling to come back after being fried by me, eaten by worms and then blister beetles and then Cary; this stuff is resilient--I never pull it up after pest/pet attacks)
4. Canary Yellow Swiss Chard (BC, 2006--love this stuff)
5. Oriole Orange Swiss Chard (BC, 2005--actually, I love all chard)

What's Growin' On Now: Lots of seeds sprouted in only a few days. All destroyed by dogs except a few endive seedlings. Now have volunteer cucumbers popping up in one corner for some reason, but not enough time for plants to mature before frost.

New Big Experimental Bed (will write more about this another time) by south fence, closest to house:
1. Little Finger Carrot
(BC, ?? very old)
2. Carentan Leek (BC, 2006, same seeds as ones STILL in container started in February and never transplanted--along with two types of broccoli mentioned below--looking almost sad enough to be tossed into compost pile, but not quite)
3. Early Purple Vienna Kohlrabi (BC, 2006, same seeds as planted early spring in othe raised bed--ate lots of young leaves in salads, mature leaves decimated by worms so fed to chickens, new growth nibbled constantly by Cary; no big deal as the only way I truly like to eat kohrabi calls for the leaves as well as the bulbs)
4. Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli (BC, 2006)
5. Waltham 29 Broccoli (BC, 2006)

What's Growin' On Now: No sign of carrots or leeks. Lots of small kohlrabi and broccoli sprouts. Seem okay in heat so far, though already being attacked by bugs. Need to sprinkle with diatomaceous earth. 8/22/06 Update: Was out sprinkling with d.e. this morning and noticed the leeks are sprouting! Have never direct seeded leeks before. This should be interesting. May try transplanting into the greenhouse. Should probably move some of the broccoli into the greenhouse as well. Fall planting can get very complicated!

Other New Big Experimental Bed by south fence, furthest from house:
1. Seeds from a large zipper bag simply labeled "Kale 1998." Must have been thousands of seeds in there. Tossed all onto plot.

2. Rocky Top Lettuce Salad Mix (BC, 2004, same mix I grew this spring with great success, only those seeds were for 2006).

What's Growin' On Now: Nothing but a few stray weeds. I'm blaming the seeds and not the bed. I've mentioned before that in my experience, lettuce seeds do not save well from year to year. And those kale seeds were 8 years old. Figured it was worth a try though, especially as that bed is mostly shaded. Will probably reseed with something else.

In The Greenhouse:
1. 3 Aconcagua Pepper plants leftover from spring (know they won't last long once it gets cold but couldn't bear to toss them)
2. One tiny Thai Pink Egg Tomato plant leftover from spring (the sad story of the ones in the garden will be told sometime soon)
3. One rogue broccoli seedling found growing in a container with something else
4. 4 Swiss Chard seedlings from 2005 (!) still hanging around in individual plugs--NOTE: dug up and destroyed by something (think Lucky Buddy Bear) on 8/15/06.
5. Several basil plants that have been languishing in plugs since spring.

Okay, this is getting awfully long, so I'm going to stop for now. I'll continue in another post with what seeds I am planning to start next week. If you are in Zone 5 or higher, I think you probably have plenty of time left to grow a fall garden. (Not sure about the colder zones--if you haven't already, check out Cold Climate Gardening for all kinds of growing advice.)

But anyone who has at least four weeks left before a killing frost is likely can plant a gourmet salad garden (many people don't realize that most lettuces will survive frosts and temps below 32F). Click here to read my previous post that shows how you can go from seed packets to salad bowl in less than a month.

If you plan to start seeds and are minding the moonsigns (click here to learn more about this), you'll want to start them August 28th, 29th, and 30th (fertile 1st quarter days) or September 4th (fertile 2nd quarter day). If you're pressed for time, just start your seeds whenever you can!

I hope I've answered some of your questions about fall planting. As always, your comments, tips, and questions are welcome.


  1. You've made me feel better about not getting my leeks and cabbage in yet :) Think I'll do that soon ... our winter season is very wet but not as cold so should be ok. I also am now convinced to invest in some row coverage, strange as my neighbours may think me.
    Thanks for the in-depth details. And the beans turned out great!

  2. The previous owner of my house was an elderly lady who loved lacy net curtains. Vast swathes of the stuff festooned over every window. The first thing I did when I moved in was to take it all down.

    It's not as good as the proper horticultural stuff, admittedly, but I find the old lady's curtains make the most wonderful floating row covers. They keep out most pests, protect the plants from early and late frosts and have a very decorative floral pattern on them (blech).

    By the way, I always appreciate the moon planting information you post. Reading about it here saves me having to go and look it up somewhere else.

  3. A guy from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds was on a program called "Homegrown" on Martha Stewart radio this morning at 9 am. I thought of you immediately!

  4. I just got my Pine Tree seed catalog yesterday and I can't wait to start dog earring the pages for next year. I am not sure about fall gardening. I want to plant something but we have a resident bunny and a family of house dwelling squirrels and I am afraid they will eat everything that's not nailed down. They loved our corn and ate half of every tomato we grew. So it's an uphill battle against them. Got any suggestions?

  5. I haven't planted a darn thing for Fall except some green beans and some lettuce.


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

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