In the Garden:
Kohlrabi makes a great fall crop in our region. Plant from late July through August, depending on your location.
Thinking Ahead to Fall
Yes, it's time to start thinking about fall. Just like the merchants who start displaying the fall fashion lineup when it's still beachwear weather, gardeners who want enjoy a fall vegetable harvest need to think ahead during summer's heat to cooler times to come. But a little planning and planting now can pay big dividends as your homegrown harvest continues into September and October, perhaps even longer.
New England may not be a large area from a geographic standpoint, but there is substantial difference in the length of the growing season from the coastal areas of southern New England to the chilly mountain areas up north. So the first step in figuring out what's suitable for late season harvest where you garden and when to plant is to find the average date of the first fall frost in your area. Visit the National Climatic Data Center at http://cdo.ncdc.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/climatenormals/climatenormals.pl?directive=prod_select2&prodtype=CLIM2001&subrnum= or check with your local Extension Service office or local seasoned gardeners to find out when your first fall frost usually strikes.
The next thing to keep in mind is that there are two broad categories of plants that can be planted in midsummer for a later harvest -- those that can't tolerate any frost, but mature quickly enough to be ready for picking before cold weather shuts them down, like bush beans, and those that tolerate some frost and will keep growing -- sometimes even improving in quality -- until cold temperatures hit later in fall. Within this latter group are plants that will take light frost (temperatures between 28 and 32 degrees F), like lettuce, and tougher ones, like kale, that will survive temperatures down to the mid 20s or lower.
Of course, if you provide your plants with some frost protection in the form of a cloche, row cover, cold frame, low tunnel, or even just some old sheets tossed over plants on a cold night, you'll be able to extend your harvest even longer.
Once you know the average date for a killing frost in your area, check out the days to harvest listed on the seed packet of vegetables you'd like to grow. Count back from the frost date, add another week to take into account the slower growth rate as days shorten, and you'll arrive at your planting date.
For example, my fall frost date is October 1, so I still have time to make one last planting of frost-tender, but fast-maturing 'Provider' bush beans, which mature in 50 days from sowing, for a harvest before the first frost finishes them off. (That's assuming the rabbits stop eating them -- but that's another story!)
There are lots more midsummer planting options to choose from among the cold-tolerant crops that can survive a light frost. Beets, cilantro, kohlrabi, arugula, broccoli raab, spinach, carrots, chard, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, radishes, turnips, endive, escarole, lettuce, and hardy greens like mizuna can be planted now and into August in many parts of our region for fall harvest. You'll have the most success if you choose the fastest maturing varieties. Hardy kale and collards will survive even frostier temperatures, down to the low 20s. For a handy fall planting date calculator based on your fall frost date, check out the interactive tool on Johnny's Selected Seeds website at http://www.johnnyseeds.com/t-InteractiveTools.aspx.
Some crops like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are frost-tolerant and make great fall crops, but take too long to mature to start from seed at this point in the season. But if you can find started transplants to purchase and plant, you may still be able to harvest a late crop, especially if you garden in the warmer parts of our region.
A common quandary for many gardeners when planning for fall vegetable crops is where to put them when all the garden space is still taken up with summer-producing crops. While it won't work for everything, many crops can be started in flats or cell paks and transplanted into the garden as space opens up at the end of the season. Even plants that are traditionally direct-sown, such as beets, can be successfully transplanted if care is taken to disturb their roots as little as possible.
So remember, even though the weather is in the 90s and your garden in overflowing with zucchini and tomatoes, when you see the bathing suits go on sale, it's time to think about planting for fall!
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