If you are frustrated with your spring garden and have missed the produce that you’ve come to love and appreciate, we may need to drop back, punt, and plan for a fall garden. It is a commonly overlooked fact by gardeners that there are indeed two times to have a vegetable garden each year: spring and fall.
Yes, the fall vegetable garden is just as much a possibility as a spring one, just different. It will be different in a number of ways.
Establishing a fall garden is different as you have to work in the heat up-front. This will be to your advantage as warm soils help germinate vegetable plants much sooner than cooler spring soil temperatures.
Watering is also approached with a different mind-set. Water will be crucial to establishing the summer growing vegetables. Germinated seeds in July and August will need uniform moisture and plenty of it. Mulching, a practice not often done for spring gardens will really help here. Just a light layer of mulch will greatly aid in keeping moisture in the soil next to the developing roots.
Pest control for fall gardens will be less. Insect problems that are commonly experienced in the spring will be reduced. Disease issues that arise from cool, moist environments when plants are young will also be diminished.
The biggest proponents of fall vegetable gardens will always brag on the harvest. Harvested produce in autumn, in milder weather, are reported to taste better. The time spent harvesting, choosing which tomato or what size cucumber to pick, is obviously more comfortably done in the cooler fall months as well.
Of great importance is your planning. Most vegetables traditionally grown in the spring/summer have a hard deadline when fall gardening. They must beat the frost. Now the average first frost for this area is mid- November. The key word is average. Sometimes it may be near Christmas, and other times it will be prior to Halloween.
So when choosing what and when to plant, keep in mind how long it takes each vegetable to reach harvest stage. Southern peas (purple hulls, zipper creams, etc.) normally take about 60 days. Counting backwards from a mid-October harvest puts the planting at mid-August at the latest. To get pumpkins for Halloween you need plant 90 to 100 days before you want it on display. 90 days before mid-October is mid-July.
Late fall plantings of most greens will handle frosts just fine, perhaps even benefit. Collards grow best in cool weather and can stand temperatures of 20 degrees or less in some cases. They taste sweeter after a light frost.
If you just can’t wait for fall, then go ahead and plant okra and southern peas. These two vegetables do just fine in our summer conditions.
The bottom line is that here in east Texas our spring and fall gardening seasons are typically sandwiched between a mild winter and hot droughty summer conditions that cause many crops to stop production. Variety selection and proper planting time are critical to success.