Ah, can you just feel the cool crisp air around the corner? Now is a great time to plant a fall garden. I suspect when you think fall planting, your thoughts turn to bulbs and perennials but now is a great time to grow another round of vegetables. I couldn’t grow cabbage or broccoli in the spring. My timing matched the onslaught of pests that devoured these spring planted, summer harvested vegetables. But now a bit later in the season, the pests are gone or at least past the life cycle stage where they destroy my efforts to produce even one head of broccoli or cabbage. Several vegetables love the cooler weather much more than the heat and humidity of our summers. And honestly, I love working in the cooler garden.
Some good choices of cool season vegetables for Central Virginia are beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, kale, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, garden peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Some garlic, perennial or multiplier type onions and shallots are also suitable for fall planting.
Choosing plants with shorter maturity dates will contribute to a good harvest. In the fall the days are shorter and the air is cooler so our plants may grow a bit slower than they grow in the bright high sun and longer days of late spring and early summer. Plan your planting dates carefully to make sure your crop will be ready for harvest before the first hard frost this fall.
Recommendations for individual planting and harvest dates can be found at the Virginia Extension Office website. Visit ext.vt.edu and search for publication # 426-331. This publication includes all Virginia planting zones. Goochland County is in Zone 7A and the columns under “First Fall Frost: 10/15 – 10/25” show most common vegetables that can be planted in the fall in Goochland.
Many fall vegetable crops can be sown directly into the soil or started indoors and then transplanted into the garden soil. If the weather is particularly hot, sowing cool season crops into the soil can be tricky. You can try to create a cooler environment by shading the seeds using shade cloth or mulch. As the sun gets lower in the sky, perhaps you can use some areas of your garden that naturally have more shade than others. If you want a bit of a jump start, try sprouting your seeds indoors before you plant them into the soil. Place your seeds in between wet paper towels or newspaper and after about 5 – 7 days, your seeds will have sprouted. When they are approximately 1 inch long, place them gently in the soil.
Plant all fall vegetable seeds, sprouted or not, a bit deeper in the warm, late summer soil to protect them from the drier and warmer conditions. And those same warm, dry conditions mean watering those newly planted seeds well is especially important.
If the forecast says you are about to be caught by an early frost, you can extend the growing season with basic vegetable covers. Using some sort of frame – like a curved bamboo stem, a plant cover can be created to protect plants from cool night air. The covers are then removed during the day. Or the covers can be gently laid on top of the plants at night and removed during the day. Mulching the soil always moderates changes in temperature and moisture. And while you’re mulching, don’t forget next year’s garden beds. Cover unused beds with chopped fallen leaves and grass clippings this fall to nourish the soil and keep down weeds come spring.
To research even more about growing vegetables that don’t mind a bit of chilly weather, visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension website at ext.vt.edu and search under the Lawn and Garden/Vegetable Gardening heading to your heart’s content. But don’t forget to get outside and take advantage of the opportunity to grow food in your cooler garden.
Marla Cellucci is a certified Master Gardener through the Virginia Cooperative Extension and a member of the Goochland Powhatan Master Gardener Association. If you are interested in learning more about GPMGA programs or how to become a master gardener volunteer please visit gpmga.org.