By Sara Creamer
Fayette County Master Gardener
WASHINGTON COURT HOUSE — I know you have not picked your first tomato yet but I bet your first planting of spinach and lettuce have bolted already. It is not too early to plan for your fall garden. Think how satisfying it would be to say at Thanksgiving that the carrots, coleslaw, or broccoli salad came from your garden. With a little planning, you should be able to achieve it. Plan now to plant your fall crops in July.
It is important to decide when you need to plant to have a successful fall garden. The things you need to know are average first fall frost date (50 percent of the time temperatures will drop to 32°F), how tolerant is the crop to frost (tender, semi-hardy, or hardy) and days to maturity.
The first fall frost date seems to vary quite a bit in the literature and on the internet. There are charts based on percentages and temperatures and generators based on area code. This date is an important one. It is the date you will count back from to the planting date. As a reference, the date I was comfortable using for Fayette County, 43160 was October 10. I used USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and (Ohio State University) Extension information to arrive at this date. Do not sweat it. If you are closer to Cincinnati, use Oct. 17.
The more tolerant a crop is to frost, the more success you will have growing it in the fall. The fall garden will mirror the early spring garden. The crops that tolerate light frost include beets, peas, carrots, chard, and lettuce. Some crops tolerate a hard frost like broccoli, radish, and cabbage. Frost improves the flavor of Brussel sprouts and kale. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and sweet corn are easily damaged by even light frost and are best grown in the heat of the summer. You should plan to protect tender crops in the fall to extend harvest into Indian summer.
Days to maturity or harvest represents how many days it will take the plant to produce a crop. You will find this information on the seed packet or in the catalogue description. For fall gardens, the fewer days to maturity the better. Yaya Hybrid carrots mature in 55-60 days. Nantes Half Long carrots mature in 70 days. You will be eating carrots 10 to 15 days sooner.
To figure out the date you must plant carrots to beat the frost, take the number of days to maturity (55) and add 14 days (55+14 = 69) for the fall crop factor. The days to maturation/harvest is based on optimal growing conditions (yeah, right). The growing conditions in the fall are not optimal so we add some extra time for the fall crop factor. If you count backward from Oct. 10, the carrots should be in the ground by August 2. If you wanted to grow cucumbers in the fall, you would have to add another 14 days (55+14+14 = 83). This is the tender crop factor. They are not tolerant of frost so they need even more time. With a similar maturation, they should be in the ground by July 19.
Some advantages of the fall garden are fewer insects, less sweating, and the Thanksgiving brag factor.
You should start with plants instead of seed when possible. Soon plants will become less available in the garden center. This means you will have to buy them now and grow them a while or start them from seed (refer to January 2017 Rural Life Today article). Most seed will need to be started very soon for the fall garden.
Here are a few hints that will help your garden be successful. A light mulch until seed germinates helps conserve moisture. Be sure you keep your newly planted garden well watered in the heat of August. Protect plants that bolt (i.e. spinach, lettuce, and broccoli) in the heat with a see-through white fabric called row cover.
You can use areas of the garden where the plants are done for the season. Take out the bolted lettuce and spinach and replace them with a new crop. It is not recommended to work the soil deeply. Just clean out the old plants and weeds and lightly work the soil. Your plants may need a light side dressing of fertilizer or compost.
I hope you enjoy planning your fall garden. Do not give up. Remember, Thanksgiving is coming. If you have any questions contact your county Extension professional or Sara Creamer at 740-335-1150 or firstname.lastname@example.org.