August can be a trying time in the garden. Sometimes no matter what you do, everything just bakes. I recently spent three hours in my garden cleaning it up, weeding and tidying because in spite of its seeming decline, I always have fall plantings. Lately, though, I have not felt I was getting the best of my garden, so I was really glad to hear that Don Weber, fellow Plot Against Hunger committee member and Research Entomologist at USDA’s Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, was giving a talk on fall vegetable gardening (one of the talks I mentioned in an earlier blog, Plotting Against Hunger).
I went early to learn how to water the garden and to help with the harvest and that was when I learned how to look for harlequin bugs (the reason I don’t plant broccoli and some other cold crops) on collards. These are pretty easy to spot because they’re red and black and look like clowns of the insect world, but you have to kill them or they will destroy your crops. Since I don’t have any cruciferous veggies in my garden to attract the harlequin bugs, I can proceed with plantings of broccoli this fall and see what happens.
Don told us that the first frost is in early to mid-November in Arlington, which means later plantings of some warm weather crops, such as beans, corn, summer squash and cucumbers can result in fall harvests. In addition, cool season crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, and peas, as well as bok choi will grow well during the cooler coming days. There are also frost hardy crops, such as spinach, carrots, turnips—and Don didn’t mention this, but arugula grows well until hit by snow or freezing rain as well.
Fall plantings may have fewer pest problems, he said. However, some pests may be worse—the dreaded harlequin bug and cabbage worm are two examples. Rotating crops or providing a break of one or more weeks between plantings of the same family of crops may help.
Timely planting is key, it turns out, and I had no idea that you should vary the depth of seed for fall planting. Don brought seedlings for the people who attended and had seeds as well. I came away with broccoli and bok choi seedlings and pelletized carrot seeds and spinach seeds. The pelletized seeds have a layer of clay around them which helps the seeds germinate by keeping them moist. For Don’s Arlington-specific handout, look here.
I left excited about the possibilities of fall and came home to go through my seeds and set the soon-to-be-planted seedlings on my kitchen window sill.