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Released: July 28, 2004

Fall-Harvested Vegetables Easy to Grow - and Tastier!

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Growing fall vegetables isn’t a high priority on many gardeners’ list.

For Bruce Chladny, however, fall is the best time to raise what typically are thought of as spring crops - including all of the salad greens needed to go with fall’s resurgence in tomato production.

“Seeds for fall crops germinate and grow more quickly than they do in spring. In fact, you usually can have crops up and growing in just a few days,” said Chladny, who is an avid gardener, as well as a horticulturist with Kansas State University Research and Extension. “Transplants will grow new roots and begin shoot growth almost the next day after planting.”

He finds insects, disease and weed problems are much less severe for fall crops than they are in early-season gardens.

“The crops mature rapidly and often will have better flavor, too, because fall’s cool harvesttime air temperatures will be mixing with the season’s warm soil temperatures,” Chladny said.

Two factors influence fall crops’ planting dates: 1) time needed for a crop to develop and 2) the crop’s ability to withstand a freeze.

In Kansas, for example, the ideal crops for planting in late July and early August include cucumbers, summer squash and beans (from seed) and broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower (from transplants). The first half of August is the season’s second planting time for beets, carrots and kale. Late August and early September are prime times to prepare for a late-season harvest of lettuces, radishes, spinach and turnips.

“The only real downfall to fall gardening is keeping the plants watered. In some years, that can turn into quite a chore. However, it may not be much a problem this year, given the timely rains we’ve been getting since spring. At the end of July, some Lawrence gardeners still hadn’t needed to water their lawns,” Chladny said.

Nonetheless, preparing a fall garden with hot, dry summer weather in mind is always prudent. So, Chladny suggested taking the following steps:

* If weeds or other plant debris is left over from a previous crop, mow it down. Then till the ground lightly and give the “plowed” organic matter three to five days to dry before you start planting.

* On cleared ground, do not work the ground extensively or add large amounts of organic material, because either can use up soil moisture. Simply scratch the soil surface enough to create a good soil bed.

“Save your compost and other goodies for late fall, after everything has been harvested,” Chladny advised. “That’s always the best time to improve soil in preparation for next year’s garden.”

* Plant seeds about twice as deep as you would for a spring garden, so they’ll be in cooler soil that’s more likely to be moist.

“With small seeds, that’s still not going to be very deep. But it will make a difference,” he said.

* To ensure a good stand, plant a little thicker than recommended. If necessary, thin later for proper spacing.

* To conserve moisture and moderate soil temperatures, place a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around emerging plants and between rows.

* Water, as needed, while the garden gets established.

“With this kind of start, the garden won’t require any special cultural techniques as it grows. You may need to pull a few weeds. Insect and disease pests may appear, requiring specific control measures. But those are things that routinely develop in any gardening system,” Chladny said. “Besides, you’ll know that any chores your fall garden does require will be leading to some of the best eating of the year.”

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K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Kathleen Ward
kward@oznet.ksu.edu
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Bruce Chladny is at 785-843-7058