Mid-September is a transition time for vegetable gardeners. You may be doing some garden clean-up, recording the successes and failures you were too busy to think about when they happened, and deciding how to manage the soil this fall and winter. We’re also slowly removing the warm season plants that are well-past their prime and wondering how to keep the fresh produce coming! It’s too late to plant peas (they rarely do well in the fall) or a late crop of broccoli or cabbage. So what to do with the open beds and spaces that won’t be planted in garlic, leeks, and shallots or cover crops?
There’s a long list of crops, mostly leafy greens, which you can plant now and harvest before and after frost arrives. And you can probably find seed packets for some crops in local garden centers, hardware stores, and food markets:
- Leaf lettuce, spinach, radish
- Broccoli raab (rapini), kales, collards, mustards, arugula
- All sorts of Asian greens such as tatsoi, mizuna, mibuna, komatsuna, hon tsai tai, autumn poem, and Chinese broccoli
- Turnips produce delicious fall greens. Some of the quicker maturing cultivars like ‘Hakurei,’ planted in early-mid September, will have enough time to make turnips before frost
Making it Work
Start by removing crop debris and raking the soil so that it’s relatively smooth. Spread an inch or so of compost or rake in 2 lbs. of cottonseed meal (6-2-1) or equivalent fertilizer per 100 sq. ft. of growing area. If you practice no-till techniques simply move mulch to the side and drag a garden tool, tool handle, or stick through the soil to make a shallow furrow. Wet the ground prior to planting if the soil is dry. Seeds will germinate quickly in warm, moist soil.
Fall gardening means shorter days, lower sun angle, and less intense sunlight so it helps to increase the recommended space between seeds. Cover the planted rows, beds, and containers with a floating row cover to reduce insect feeding, increase plant growth, protect against frost injury, and extend the harvest period. The cover can float on top of the crop or be draped over a frame. Secure the cover to the ground with rocks, pins, bricks, or boards. Consider using heavier floating row covers in October/November, and for overwintering crops, that give 5-10⁰ F. of frost protection. Type “floating row covers” into an online search to find a variety of sellers.
Water regularly, thin plants if needed, and start harvesting leafy greens, either by breaking off outer leaves or cutting plants to the ground to re-grow. Kale, spinach, and arugula, will overwinter reliably with floating row cover protection in all but the coldest areas of Maryland (would love to hear from Western Maryland gardeners about their experiences). These crops will re-grow impressively in spring.
Don’t delay- the time is now! Taking advantage of longer, warmer fall weather for growing vegetable crops is a smart climate change adaption strategy.
By Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist