Each spring it seems we are all eager to get our hands dirty and plant seeds well before we should, as we are chomping at the bit to get our vegetable gardens going and shake off our winter blues. And now that fall is on its way, the garden you so eagerly planted may be overcome with weeds and many of your favorite crops are finished producing, depending on the varieties you planted. But don’t hang up your shovel and gardening gloves just yet.
Instead, pull a wheelbarrow up to the garden and rip out those finished plants and weeds and stir in a few inches of compost. The compost is very important, especially in areas where tomatoes, squash, potatoes, zucchini and cucumbers grew, as those crops most certainly sapped your soil of its nutrients.
And now it’s time to plant your fall garden. In Columbia our first light frost usually arrives around the middle of October, so when you look for seeds to plant, make sure you have enough days until then to harvest. For example if a packet says 42 days, you should plant it by September 4th. Don’t worry too much if you are cutting it close or going over our estimated first frost date, as you never know how our weather will actually be, especially these days. Our first frost may not even come until November and seeds are so inexpensive you might as well take the chance and hope Mother Nature goes along with your plan.
The best seeds to plant in early September are:
Parris White Romaine – When the plants are seven inches tall, bring a bowl and a pair of scissors to the garden and harvest the outer leaves to let the plant continue to grow through the fall.
Leafy Lettuces – Again, harvest only the largest leaves for a continued bounty.
Spinach – Spinach is delicious whether the leaves are small or large!
Kale – Younger leaves are more tender for salads, and more mature plants can be sautéed in apple cider vinegar, shallots and a splash of white wine for a delicious side dish of healthy anti-oxidants.
Arugula – If you haven’t already, give arugula a try. It is packed with flavor and can kick a sandwich up a significant culinary notch.
Sugar Snap Peas (provide supports) – Harvest the shoots for salad, or the tender pods for snacking.
Radishes – Plant 16 per square foot. This is a fast and fun crop for kids to grow.
Carrots – being a root vegetable, it’s not so critical to harvest these before frost if we have a warm fall.
You can also plant starter plants of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage from your local nursery. Be sure to keep them well-watered should we have an Indian summer, as they will not care for the heat.
Additionally, in Missouri we can plant garlic to grow over the winter. Order online or buy from your nursery, as cloves from grocery store bulbs won’t grow as easily. Plant cloves in a sunny spot, pointy side up, a couple inches deep and four inches apart in well-drained, nutrient-rich soil (garlic loves nitrogen!) Mulch with straw or shredded leaves, and in the spring watch it shoot up. When the tops of the shoots yellow and fall over in midsummer, it’s time to harvest. After gently digging them up (their papers should be dry, if not cease watering and let them be a bit longer), shake them off and hang to dry in groups of 4-6 for two weeks. At that point, they are ready for storage. Fall planting will bring a delicious summer harvest!
Shallot and onion sets can also be planted in the fall for a late spring harvest. These can be ordered online or bought locally, though they can be harder to find in the fall. The key to a successful onion planting is not to plant them too deeply, just below the surface, and with only a fine layer of soil over them. Mulch generously and fertilize before the first frost and again in the spring.
Though it’s often the norm, ignoring your garden in the fall is a missed opportunity, but the key to success is replacing the nutrients with a good layer of compost. If you’re not making your own compost at home, it is available by the bag at our locally owned Wilson’s Garden Center or any retailer that sells bagged soil mixes. Get the most out of your garden and put it to work this fall!