Contributed by: Mallory Kelley, Regional Extension Agent
If your summer vegetable garden was a bust, you are not alone. The cool late spring weather was wonderful and all this rain after the drought in the fall was much needed, but the problems they caused on our summer vegetables has been severe. If your tomatoes, peppers, beans and squash didn’t survive, don’t give up, you must try again and why not with a fall garden?
Fall vegetables are really my favorite to grow and I have just about decided I will leave the peppers and tomatoes to my grandfather and avoid the summer heat, afternoon rain showers and weeding all together and take my turn providing for the family in the fall. We are blessed by our warm Alabama climate that we can grow vegetables year round.
Many cool-season vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, lettuce and Brussels sprouts, produce their best flavor and quality when they are maturing during cool weather. In Alabama, the spring temperatures often heat up quickly causing vegetables such as lettuce and spinach to bolt (flower) or develop a bitter flavor. This is why planting these veggies late in the summer or early fall when we are transitioning to cooler temps is more ideal than in the spring.
Growing a productive fall vegetable garden requires thoughtful planning and good cultural practices. In Alabama, August and September are the ideal months for planting a fall garden. For a more accurate planting schedule, determine the average date of the first killing frost in the fall, and then count backward from the frost date, using the number of days to maturity to determine the best time to plant in your area.
Alabama in August and September is usually hot and dry. If you choose to plant your fall veggies from seed during these months you must be careful to keep the soil moist. Incorporating organic matter into the soil will help add nutrients and increase water holding capacity. Lettuce and spinach seeds will not germinate if the soil temperature exceeds 85 degrees F so for these you may need to wait a bit longer before sowing or plant from transplants. Also remember to mulch the garden to moderate moisture levels as September and October are our driest months with very little rainfall.
You can extend your summer vegetable crop and your semi-hardy vegetables on into the fall and winter easily by protecting them from frost. In Alabama, we often enjoy several weeks of good growing conditions after the first frost. Cover growing beds, rows or individual plants with burlap or a floating row cover supported by stakes or wire to keep the material from directly touching the plants.
Most hardy vegetables require little or no frost protection, but semi-hardy vegetables should be protected or harvested before a heavy freeze. Root crops such as carrots and radishes should be harvested or mulched heavily before a hard freeze. Mulched root crops can often be harvested well into the winter, and during mild winters, harvest may continue until spring.
So, if your summer garden was a flop, or you’re wanting to continue your progress of home vegetables into this fall and winter, it’s not too late. There is still time to plant, especially the HARDY vegetables that can withstand a light frost such as: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi, Onions, Radishes, Spinach and Turnips.
If you have questions about any of these vegetables or others please call our Master Gardener Helpline!
March through August the Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers a Gardening Helpline for the general public each Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. This helpline is operated by Master Gardener Volunteers who use research based information to best answer all of your gardening questions.
If you’ve got home garden questions, we’ve got answers!
Call 1-877-252-GROW (4769)
Please join us for the FREE Master Gardener Lunch and Learn Program in your area EVERY MONTH from 12:00-1:00, Bring a Sack Lunch, Drinks Provided.
Coosa (August 1st)-11:00-1:00- Managing Fire Ants, Mallory Kelley
Montgomery (August 2nd) – Water Wisely- Drip Irrigation, Mary McCroan
Autauga (August 3rd) – Tough Native Wildflowers, Sue Webb
Elmore (August 8th)-Preserving your Gardens Bounty, Food Preservation Agent, Janet Johnson
Please join us and bring a friend!
For more information, call your local county extension office.