How would you like to serve your own homegrown potatoes and squash at this year's Thanksgiving meal? In this issue of the Garden Harvest Supply Newsletter we'll give you some tips on how to have the best fall harvestand most delicious Thanksgiving dinner!ever.
Know Your Frost Date
The rule of thumb when planning for a fall harvest is to choose plants that are likely to mature by the time the first frost hits. That approximate date can be found by consulting the Frost Chart at the Old Farmer's Almanac online. Then check our website to determine the number of days your plants will require to mature.
For example, the Butte potato is listed on our site as taking 110-135 days to mature. If you live in, say, Portland, OR, the Farmer's Almanac will tell you that the average first frost date in your area is Nov. 15. This means that if you plant in early August, you should be ready to harvest in early November, just ahead of the first frost.
But what if you live in Cedar Rapids, IA where the average first frost is October 6? In that case, it may be best to switch to a plant that matures more rapidly. Our Coronado Crown Broccoli requires only 58 days. If you put it in the ground in early August, your broccoli should be ready before the first frost.
Know Your Plant's Hardiness
Another factor to consider when planning for a fall harvest is plant hardiness. Though tender plants will be damaged by a frost, plants that are semi-hardy will tolerate a light frost. And if you choose hardy plants, you no longer have to be hamstrung by the cold weather.
Planting Fall Strawberries
Strawberries are also a hardy plant. Many people associate them with spring planting, but if you plant them in the fall, they require less care and you won't have to wait until the next year for them to bear fruit: they will overwinter and be ready to harvest the following spring.
We offer two varieties of strawberries that can be planted in the fall, even though they're categorized as June bearing: the Sweet Charlie, which matures the fastest, and the Chandler, which takes about a week longer. We ship both kinds out as guaranteed disease-free potted plants, with 25 plants to an order. Shipping begins the first week of September, but if you preorder now, you'll be the first to receive them.
Once the plants arrive, soak them in water for 10 minutes before planting. If you only want to grow about 50-75 of them, check out our Pyramid Space Saver Garden. It has a built in sprinkler system, and can be purchased with an aluminum support frame and heavy-duty plastic cover to help guard the plants against frost.
To avoid Verticillium rot, don't plant strawberries in a place where potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant have recently been grown. Remember also that fall-planted strawberries must be mulched before the first frost to prevent injury to the plants. Repeated freezing and thawing of the ground can heave un-mulched plants out of the soil. Straw makes an ideal mulching material, and pine needles work well too.
Cover Your Plants
Yes, even hardy plants need some protection in freezing temperatures. Many gardeners simply throw old bed sheets or towels over their vulnerable plants when the nightly news predicts a cold snap. To improve on this method, support your cover materials with stakes or wire. Individual plants can be protected with gallon milk jugs with the bottoms cut out, and root crops can be covered with 18 inches of hay, straw, dry leaves, or pine needles.
Of course, there are many products on the market that are engineered to provide optimal cold-weather protection, and they often have other benefits as well such as weed and pest control. Some of the the popular are the Wall O Water Plant Protector for individual plants, and Haxnicks Easy Tunnel Row Cover for entire rows. Cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower can be planted through black plastic mulch, which also works well for strawberries planted in the fall.
A more permanent solution to the problem of frost damaging your plants is to use a cold frame or hot bed. For more information on this, try these links from the extensions of Cornell University, the University of Missouri and Ohio State University.
Keep â€˜em Moist
Watering is always important, but if you live in an area where August means long, hot, dry days, you'll want to really stay on top of this. Most master gardeners agree that your plants will need one or two inches of water per week at this time if you want your fall garden to get off to a good start.
Horticulturist B. Rosie Lerner warns that in late summer, a hard crust might form over your seeds, which can interfere with their germination, especially if the soil is heavy. She also notes that seeds of lettuce, peas, and spinach may have difficulty germinating if the soil temperatures rise to 85F or above. To keep the seeds cooler and moister, she recommends planting them slightly deeper than you do in the spring, and applying a light mulch.
One final tip about watering: if you're going to be away on vacation, or just want to reduce the amount of time you spend watering, give our Terra-Sorb Water Saving Granules a try. They absorb up to 200 times their own weight in water, and then release it as the soil dries out, watering your plants from below so that you don't have to water them from above. Because they supply moisture in a more efficient way than ordinary watering, they also reduce water usage significantly.
Mum's the Word
Late summer is a great time to plant garden chrysanthemums. Not only are they one of the easiest flowers to grow, but when everything else is barren and bare, they will still be smiling brightly at you through the frost.
Mums typically bloom from September to the end of October or sometimes longer, depending on the weather. If you protect them from the cold and choose a hardy variety, they will do well in even the coldest climate zones. As the gardening experts at Home & Garden Television say, Keep your mums well watered through the first hard freeze. After that, add a thick layer of mulch to protect them through winter. For trimming back, there are a couple of schools of thought. In warmer climates, it’s fine to cut back. In colder climates, leave the dead stems; they work perfectly as a cage. Stuff leaves inside to add extra protection.
Looking to Fall
There's a lot more to say about fall gardening, but we'll leave it for our September newsletter. Until then, enjoy the dog days of summer, and don't believe that recently-publicized study which claims that organic crops are no better for you than crops produced using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Organic fruits and veggies may not have significantly more vitamins and minerals than their non-organic counterparts, but they are free of chemical pesticide residuean important health factor that the researchers did not even take into account. Furthermore, organic growing methods are better for the soil and for the planet.
The best thing, of course, is to eat your own fruits and vegetables fresh from the garden, grown using the safe and natural products we sell here at Garden Harvest Supply. There is a health value to that kind of wholesomeness which scientists have barely begun to investigate.