Upper South

September, 2006
Regional Report

Grow Your Own or Buy Local

The recent E. coli outbreak in fresh spinach, following similar problems with lettuce in previous years, only reinforces the fact that it makes sense to either buy locally grown produce as much as possible or grow our own. It's still not too late to plant lettuce, arugula, spinach, and kale as long as you plan on protecting it, either with some type of cold frame or frost-protection fabric. Choose the hardiest varieties, such as Siberian or Scotch-blue-curled kales or the winter lettuces recommended by seed companies. You may not have production all winter, but it very likely will last at least until Christmas.

Begin Planting Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Spring-blooming bulbs are best planted at least four to six weeks before the ground freezes in order to have good root formation. For the upper south, ground-freezing is usually some time from mid-November to mid-December, so work backwards from that. Start by planting those bulbs that bloom the earliest, then progress through the later-blooming ones. For the most visual impact, plant the bulbs in clusters rather than straight lines. Be sure to try types you've never grown before. The large-flowered alliums are an especially spectacular addition to the garden.

Bring Houseplants Indoors

Houseplants that have summered outdoors should be moved indoors before night temperatures consistently fall below 50 to 55 degrees F. Even after a clean bill of health with a visual check for pests, it's not a bad idea to spray with a houseplant insecticide before bringing them inside. For most plants, repotting is better for plants when they're in active growth in the spring, but if a plant is especially potbound, don't hesitate to repot it now. If you have good light conditions indoors, it is also beneficial to fertilizer regularly during the winter.

Be Prepared for Frost

If you haven't already had a frost, it will be here soon. The folk wisdom is that it usually occurs in conjunction with the first October full moon. Watch weather reports regularly and finish harvesting frost-tender crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, and sweet potatoes. Sometimes these crops can be saved by covering them with old bed sheets, blankets, or garden fabric, but only if the frost is light. Most of the hardier crops, like kale, turnips, and radishes, will readily survive light frost but will need some protection with colder weather. Tender bulbs, like cannas, caladiums, tuberous begonias, and gladiolus, should be dug before frost, allowed to air dry, and stored in dry peat moss or vermiculite.

Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors

Tomatoes that are still green but mature can be ripened indoors. "Mature green" is a full-sized tomato just turning from a dark to a lighter green. To hold tomatoes at this stage for several weeks, store between 55 and 60 degrees F. At these temperatures, the tomatoes will ripen in about a month. To ripen them more quickly, keep at 65 to 75 degrees. Putting a few apples among the tomatoes helps to hasten ripening because of the ethylene gas emitted by the apples. Another method of ripening tomatoes is to pull up the entire plant and hang it upside down in an indoor location with temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees F.

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