2018-09-07 / Home & Garden

Planning the fall food garden

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

With warm-season food crops waning and autumn on the horizon, home, school, and community gardeners are in the process of planning and planting fall food gardens. Fall initiates the longest and most productive growing season spanning September through April. In cooler weather plants demand less water and insect pests and weeds are minimal and manageable.

Fall Garden Planning, a new book by Amy Whitney, Georgia organic gardener, is a how to guide supporting southeastern gardeners in USDA hardiness zones 7-9 on fall crop selection, scheduling planting time, soil preparation, fertilization, and organic pest control.

Whitney’s writing style is like having a gardening coach among the rows or raised beds from seed to harvest. Whether discussing the pros and cons of planting from seed or transplants, ways to extend the harvest, or determining soil moisture content, she shares personal knowledge gained over 25 years of experience.


Cool-season crops offer the southeast gardener broad possibilities. Cool-season crops offer the southeast gardener broad possibilities. Since planting dates are important for a continual harvest, she describes two methods to determine planting dates: 1) the range of planting dates on seed packets 2) count back from the estimated first frost date the number of days-to-maturity (also on seed packet).

The date range method coincides with your cooperative extension fall planting chart. For example, fall mustard is planted in Columbia from August 15- October 1 and radishes from September 1-October 25.

The count back method starts with your city’s first frost date, November 1 in Columbia. To create a planting schedule for crops using frost date and days-to-maturity, Whitney counts back the number of days from the frost date adding seven more days to adjust for slower growing when weather cools. She also checks for microclimates in her yard to take advantage of temperature gradients for plants.


Row covers protect plants from frost and wind, barricade insects, and prevent disease spread. Row covers protect plants from frost and wind, barricade insects, and prevent disease spread. Whitney cautions that days to harvest vary for each variety of crop you plant. Since carrot ‘Little Finger’ matures in 50 days, carrot ‘Lunar White’ in 60 days, and Carrot ‘Danvers’ takes 70 days, plan a staggered planting schedule.

Soil preparation precedes planting. Use the soil sample test results submitted to the county extension office as the starting point for amending soil. Since a basic soil test only reports the Big Three—NPK— nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, Whitney adds compost and kelp meal for micronutrients.

Organic gardeners plan ahead to manage pests. The most prevalent insect pests of cool-season vegetables are cabbage moth and cabbage white butterfly caterpillars. They chew Brassica leaves - broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard, pak choi, and turnip. To prevent flying insects from laying eggs on the leaves, cover the crops with small meshed netting or floating row covers. Even nylon tulle works.

Row covers keep aphids off plants too. If aphids do appear before the row cover, smashing with fingers or blasting with a water hose works. Welcome aphid predators like ladybugs, green lacewings, and parasitic wasps.

Follow Amy Whitney’s organic gardening advice at www.smallgardennews.com.

Fall Crops for
Southern Gardens
Beets
Bok Choy
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Cilantro
Collard greens
Garlic
Kale
Kohlrabi
Lettuce
Mustard greens
Onions, bulbing
Onions, bunching
Parsley
Radish, salad
Radish, winter
Rutabagas
Shallots
Spinach
Swiss chard
Turnips



Different varieties of the same crop can have differing planting dates. Different varieties of the same crop can have differing planting dates.

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