Do you know The Garden Song? Written by David Mallett and recorded by Pete Seeger and many others singers, it well captures the satisfaction of planting and growing one’s own produce. However, there’s also the Anti-Garden Song that well captures the frustrations of gardening that make some people want to throw in the trowel.
Here at Garden Harvest Supply we want to make gardening as enjoyable as possible for you by offering the best selection of fall vegetable plants, along with fertilizer, natural pesticides, garden tools and everything else you’ll need to have a bountiful harvest. We know you are gearing up to plant your fall veggies, so this newsletter consists of a step-by-step guide to fall vegetable planting. Though simple enough for a beginner, some veteran gardeners might also find things of value in it.
Soil Testing Is the Way to Grow
The first step to a successful fall harvest is to test your soil. As we mentioned last time, a soil test these days only costs about $1.50, and it’s worth ten times that for these two important reasons:
First, you’ll learn your soil’s pH, information that will enable you to know which crops will do best in it. If the crops you want to plant require a different pH, you’ll be able to immediately amend your soil to create more favorable growing conditions for them.
Second, the soil test will tell you whether your soil needs amendment. If the test indicates that your soil is fertile, you can proceed with confidence. If it reveals a deficiency, you can then choose a fertilizer that will give your soil exactly what it needs.
Since this can sometimes be a complex decision, especially if you have to both provide essential nutrients and also modify the pH of your soil, we have a master gardener on hand who would be happy to advise you. Send her an email describing your situation and Karen will reply with the solution.
Along with the results of your soil test, you’ll want to gather four additional pieces of information: the ideal pH of the plants you’re interested in, how much time they take to mature, how hardy they are, and the first expected frost date for your area.
These first two items can be found on our website at the bottom of each of our vegetable plant pages. A hardiness chart can be found here, courtesy of the University of Illinois extension. The average frost date for your area can be found at the Farmers’ Almanac site, courtesy of the National Climatic Data Center. You might also want to consider the Climate Zone you’re in and read up on what grows best in it.
Factoring In Hardiness
If your plants are ranked as hardy, they can overwinter, so you hardly need to consider their growing time at all. Semi-hardy plants can withstand a first frost but not repeated frosts, so you have to be sure they will be ready for harvest before the freezing weather really sets in. And with plants that are ranked as tender or very tender, you’ll definitely want to aim for a pre-frost harvest.
Some of the most popular tender and semi-tender crops are beans, cantaloupes, cucumbers, eggplants, okra, peas, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes and watermelons. Hardy and semi-hardy crops include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, kale, lettuce, onions, and turnips.
It’s best that you plant some from each category in order to extend your harvest into the winter, and to make sure your root cellar will be loaded with a variety of produce that will last until spring.
Preparing the Soil
Once you’ve decided what you are going to plant, order from us online or call us at 888-907-4769. We guarantee that they’ll arrive healthy, and, by the way, we’re proud of the extra care we put into our growing process, such as our use of large pots to ensure healthier root systems. We also sell a wide selection of vegetable seed, which has been certified organic by our friends at MOSA, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
While you’re waiting for your plants or seed to arrive, go out to your vegetable beds and give them a thorough weeding. You’ll also want to remove any old crop residue, as well as plants that have become overgrown. These can all be composted, but any plants that show signs of disease or insect damage must be thrown away.
Wait until your soil is fairly dry—so that a clump of it will crumble easily between your fingers—and then thoroughly till your rows to a depth of at least 6–8 inches. Mix in compost, and if you need to fertilize or modify the pH of your soil, this is the time to add soil amendments, closely following the directions on the package.
If you’re starting new beds, we suggest a convenient spot near your house that receives full sunlight and can easily be watered. The soil should be fertile and drain well so you don’t get puddles after a rain. While good air movement is a plus, avoid windy areas. Also, if the location you choose contains grass, you’ll need to totally remove the old turf because you won’t be able to get rid of it by digging or tilling; the grass sprigs you’ve plowed under will cause you trouble for years to come. So get out all that old grass, and, while you’re at it, remove any stones, as well.
When the mail carrier arrives with your carefully packed GHS order, it’s time for the rubber of your wheelbarrow to hit the rows. If you’re planting from seed, be especially diligent that the soil has been well broken up so as not to form a hard crust over the seeds. In any case, carefully follow the directions that came with your order and remember that your seeds or transplants will need plenty of water, especially during the first two weeks. Depressions or basins around each transplant can be filled as needed with water, or just use a sprinkler.
Seeds as well as roots of plants need to be kept moist but don’t let them remain sopping wet or they will develop root rot and mildew. Once you’ve made it through the critical first two weeks, your seeds will have started to sprout and your plants will have enlarged their root systems so that active growth will begin.
The more you know about gardening, the more you realize that there is so much more to learn. In our book store you will find a small handpicked selection of what we think are the very best gardening books on the market, including the Winter Harvest Handbook by Eric Coleman and the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith. We also have a few books on specialized topics such as natural pest control and companion planting. And for your leisure hours, we recommend Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful book of essays, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.
We hope you enjoyed this little guide to fall vegetable growing, and most of all, we hope that your upcoming gardening experiences will leave you wanting to sing the Garden Song, not the Anti-Garden Song. From all of us at Garden Harvest Supply, happy planting!