I’d like to get into veggie gardening. Do I have to wait till spring, or is true that I can harvest a crop this fall? —BHM, Bellingham, Mass.
Answer: The first task is to make a list of the vegetables that still can be grown to maturity before the first frost, says Charlie Nardozzi, senior horticulturist for the National Gardening Association. Typical fall vegetables are lettuce, broccoli, carrots, beets, peas, cauliflower, and radishes. In fact, in warm-winter areas fall is the best time to plant these; they’ll mature during the winter and into next spring. “In northern and cold-winter areas,” Charlie says, “you'll have to select the fastest-maturing varieties of these vegetables, plant transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce, and protect plants from cold fall weather.”
Find the “days to maturity” on the seed packet and add 14 days to the time indicated. (Vegetables need more time to mature in the fall than in the spring, because the sun isn’t as strong.) Count back that many days from your average first frost date. That will be the date when you should start seeds.
“You can also check with your local garden centers for transplants of these fall crops,” Charlie points out.
Keep your veggie garden well watered. Provide the young plants some shade from the afternoon sun, which can still be scorching. As the nights cool, protect them with a row cover.
“Probably the easiest way to produce vegetables in fall is to grow them in containers,” adds Charlie. You can easily move the containers to keep your plants protected. Spinach, lettuce, mesclun mixes, Swiss chard, kale, and pac choi mature quickly and do well in containers.
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