Last Chance Vegetable Garden

By Ray Novitske, Fairfax Master Gardener
fall vegetable gardenWe begin to slack off on tending the garden during the heat of August and after months of fighting the bugs and the weeds and diseases. Most flowers are past their prime and we are busy harvesting fruit and vegetables, so we feel all gardened-out this month. But, August is the time to start the second round in our vegetable gardens. If you missed out on starting a vegetable garden this past spring, you now have a second chance.

Why fall

Some vegetables are better planted in the fall than spring. Not all crops are appropriate for fall, but those that love the cool weather flourish at this time. In fact, planting quickly-maturing vegetables such as turnips and leafy greens and lettuces can be delayed until September. Root crops such as carrots and radishes can be left in the ground well after the frost and can stay in up to a hard freeze in late fall.

snowcarrotsFall is a good time for cool season crops because fewer insect pests are buzzing around. Insects are busier in the spring and summer seasons mating, laying eggs, and chomping through our garden. The cooler weather helps slow their activity and end their growing season. Warm days and cool nights produce added sugars in some vegetables, adding flavor and crispness. Fall vegetables also have less competition with annual weeds that are mostly finished for the season as September and October roll around.

How to start

Decide what to do with the remains of the summer garden, especially since some of it can begin to look a little ragged. You may want to keep some of the plants going through the frost if they are performing well. Note that the sun begins sinking lower in the sky during the fall. Some areas with full sun in the summer may get more shade as the sun gets lower and shadows increase.

You may need to perform some different tasks to prepare for your fall vegetable planting. First, remember that our summers can be hot and dry. Soils may form a hard crust over seed you plant, interfering with the young seedlings and germination, especially in heavy