Prepare your fall vegetable garden now
The last thing many people want to think about right now is planting more crops that need tending during this summer heat. But late July is a great time to plant a vegetable garden here in Kansas City. Planting vegetables now is a great way to extend your vegetable harvest into the fall. Some crops are not just meant for spring. There are many advantages to gardening later in the season. Insect pests tend to be less of an issue in late summer and fall. Vegetables that mature during cool fall days are often better flavored than those that mature in the hot, dry days of summer. In addition, many vegetables can be left in the garden and used as needed during the winter months.
When to Plant
Planting dates depend on two factors: 1) how long the crop takes to develop and 2) how frost/freeze tolerant is the crop. Some crops, like broccoli and cauliflower, take a little longer to mature and should be planted in late July or early August. Lettuce, spinach and radishes take less time to develop, therefore planting can be done in late August through early September. Although it can be difficult to predict the exact date, the average first frost occurs around mid-October in the Kansas City area.
What to Plant
Crops that are best adapted to the fall season are mainly cool-season crops. However, beans, cucumbers and summer squash can also be grown as fall crops. Of the cool season crops, peas and onions are the ones to avoid planting in the fall. Peas require cool temperatures for germination and do not adapt well to warm summer weather. Crops to include in your fall garden include cole crops such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. These can be planted from seed or transplant. Beets, turnips and carrots are root crops perfect for growing. Various lettuces, spinaches and kale can be planted in August through mid-September as the temperatures cool down as we head into fall.
The most difficult challenge of fall gardening is establishing the seedlings. The hot, dry summer winds and sun can quickly dry out the soil. Timely watering is the key to success. The good news is that seeds planted in the warm soils germinate more rapidly than those planted in the spring, speeding up the whole establishment process. The addition of a light layer of mulch will also help shade the soil to retain moisture. The last trick is to maybe sow the seeds just a little deeper in the soil to keep them moist.
Here is the great thing about fall gardening: if you know how to tend plants in the spring, you will find fall gardening even easier once the plants are established. No special tricks or knowledge are required. The plants will tolerate the summer warm conditions while they establish, but will then thrive under the warm fall days and cool nights.
So even though you might have sworn off gardening because of the heat, now is a good time to adventure out. Early in the morning or just at sunset is the best time to beat the heat and plant a fall vegetable garden. I promise that when you are munching on a freshly harvested radish or eating a bowl of lettuce this fall you will glad you did.