For The Answer
Fall Planting—What to Plant, When and Why
"Now is the time for all good gardeners to arise, take up your hoe and strike a blow for fall vegetable gardening!"
This beautiful quote is not from an intellectual philosopher—it’s only from a mere Texas Cooperative Extension horticulturist. The time is now, folks!
Why can't we wait? Common sense tells us that all vegetable crops require a certain growing period before harvest can occur. Experience tells us that certain vegetables require a longer growing period before maturity occurs than others. For instance, vegetables such as beans, cucumbers, okra, tomatoes, pepper, squash, beets, Green Magic or Emerald Pride broccoli, Snow Crown cauliflower, Swiss chard, collards, kohlrabi, lettuce, and spinach require at least two months of growth before harvest can begin. Crops such as cantaloupe, potatoes, black-eyed peas (Southern peas), corn, eggplant, watermelon, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, onions, parsley and rutabagas require at least three months of growth before harvest can occur.
When you realize that the first six vegetable crops listed in each category above are warm season vegetables which can be damaged or killed by frost, one quickly understands the urgency of planting certain fall vegetables. Three months from today is mid-October; four months from today is mid-November. Since the San Antonio area's first frost occurs in late November, frost susceptible crops should be planted or transplanted as soon as possible to insure an adequate harvest period before cold damage occurs.
Tomatoes require a 90-day production period growing the crop from seed. If you use transplants, you can decrease the production period by 30 days. However, the use of transplants alone does not insure bountiful, precocious fall production. What must be accomplished is rapid establishment of fall transplants.
As hot and dry as the weather has been recently, some people think that transplanting is risky. Transplants WILL survive hot temperatures and full sun IF adequate moisture is available to the plant. "To the plant" is the key phrase! Transplants in peat pots or cell packs with restricted root zones require at least two weeks to sufficiently enlarge their root systems so that active growth can begin. Until that time, gardeners must provide adequate daily moisture or the transplants will either die or stunt to the point that fruit maturity will be delayed. Delayed maturity is what we need to avoid! Daily moisture should be provided on an individual basis to transplants. Depressions or basins around each transplant can be filled daily, or as needed depending on the soil type, with water to provide the necessary wetting or a drip irrigation system can be installed. Too much water, i.e., keeping roots soaking wet instead of moist, will cause root rotting and subsequent transplant stunting or death.
A transplant with a larger root system which could be
easily watered would be helpful. Such a large root system would spread
faster, have access to more water and would be supporting an older plant
which has the potential of producing more fruit sooner. You can purchase
smaller, peat pot or cell pack transplants and grow larger transplants
yourself. This simply involves:
Planting of the frost-tolerant crops listed can and should be delayed until mid?August or September. Why? Hot soil temperature that causes lack of seed germination is a real dilemma for fall vegetable producers. Vegetable seeds have optimum soil temperatures at which they will sprout and grow best. Seeds also have a maximum soil temperature above which they will not sprout at all! The maximum soil temperature for seeds of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, corn, okra, cantaloupe, pumpkin, squash, turnip, and watermelon is l05 degrees F. The optimum soil temperature for this group is 90 degrees F.
Vegetable seeds such as snap beans, beets, carrots, chard, eggplant, onion, pepper, radish, and tomato have a maximum soil temperature of 95 degrees F. at which they will germinate but they love 85 degrees F. The cool soil lovers which will not tolerate soil temperatures above 85 degrees F. but grow like weeds at 75 degrees F. include lima beans, lettuce, parsley, parsnips, peas, and spinach.
What should all of this mean to the fall vegetable gardener? Simple! With air temperature having been over 95 degrees F. for the last several months, soil temperatures will certainly be over l00 degrees F. This means that gardeners will have better success in germinating seed of vegetables in the first (l05 degrees F.) category. Yet some of the vegetables listed in the second (maximum temperature of 95 degrees F.) such as eggplant, pepper and tomato must be planted now. The answer is simple--use transplants of these crops.
Healthy transplants of recommended varieties are now available at local nurseries. Crops such as cucumber, okra, cantaloupe, squash, turnips, and watermelon can be planted by seeding directly into the garden area. Wait until later next month or early September to plant seed of the rest.
Soil temperatures can be somewhat modified by the addition of organic matter which loosens the soil, mulching and maintaining soil moisture. However, as I indicated last spring, the majority of home gardeners do not own one of the most important growing aids available—a soil thermometer. If you plant seeds in the spring when soil is too cold or in the fall when soil is too hot, the results are the same—disaster! Choose crops carefully for fall planting considering length of maturity required and frost tolerance.
The first major step is to actually decide to have a fall garden. This may seem simple, but many folks are not sure that a successful fall garden is possible. Believe me, it is! You're getting ready to have the best garden of your "career." The spring garden is just practice for the fall garden. Fall gardening in the Winter Garden area of Texas is a treat.
Once the decision to have a fall garden has been reached, a gardener must take action—drastic action. Pull out some of those plants that have been nurtured from "babies" in the spring but by now have become monsters. This takes courage and faith!
I recommend that all plants, weeds included, be removed
except okra and pole beans if the foliage is still healthy. There may
be some small tomatoes hanging on to the plant, but unless you have
at least 20 to 25 good-sized fruit, pull them out—make green tomato
relish or chow-chow. If you will recall, the largest and best tomatoes
you had this spring were the first ones produced. The tomato plant has
gotten old, diseased, and damaged by insects—it will never produce
in abundance again. Besides, it is too large to be manageable as far
as insect and disease populations are concerned. Pull the old plants
up and discard them. Give them to the garbage man. Don't try to compost
insect and disease-ridden plants. Spider mites don't compost!