by Rebecca Fridley
I love vegetable gardening and my favorite time of year to grow vegetables is in the fall. Autumn provides a pleasant environment to head outside and get your hands in the dirt as the temperature begins to cool down from the summer heat. And whether your garden space is large or small, with some planning, you can have healthy and beautiful fall vegetables on your table with minimal effort and maximum reward.
Location, Location, Location Like buying a house, the first thing to consider when planning your fall garden is the location. Choosing a location should be done well before your initial planting, especially if a new site is being established. This will allow plenty of time to remove leftover debris from the area and prepare the soil.
The location of your garden should receive at least 8 hours of sun per day and have well-drained soil. Many root vegetables do not tolerate sitting in water or wet soil. Sunlight and adequate drainage offer a hospitable environment for healthy growth.
Soil Preparation is Key Preparing the soil is the same whether you are planting in a few pots on your patio, creating a new raised bed from an existing plot in your yard, or you have an acre of land available in your backyard. First, you will want to clear the area of weeds or plants from the summer garden season.
Second, have your soil tested. Soil testing is easy and inexpensive. Contact the local Texas A&M Agrilife Extension office can provide you with sample collection bags and instructions on collecting the soil and where to send the samples. The soil test will analyze your soil’s nutrient content and instructions on amending your soil.
Planting In keeping with the planning theme, you must plan what you would like to plant and grow in your fall garden. The first question should be, what do my family and I like to eat? The Denton County hardiness zone is 8A, allowing a wide variety of vegetables to choose from. According to the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension website, the following planting options are excellent choices for fall gardens.
For early-season vegetables which are frost tolerant and quick to harvest (30 to 60 days), consider radish, beets, turnip greens, and leaf lettuce.
A few mid-season frost-tolerant vegetables that generally are ready to harvest in 60 to 80 days are broccoli, carrots, green onion, and parsley.
Late-season frost-tolerant vegetables which are longer to harvest (80+ days) are bulb onion, cabbage, cauliflower, and garlic.
Once you have selected what to plant, you need to map out where to plant. I find that literally drawing out a map or picture of how I want my garden to look is very helpful. I can also reference my previous maps to ensure I am not planting the same vegetables in the same area. Crop rotation is an essential element in maintaining healthy soil.
Watering Part of mapping your garden is grouping your seeds and plants according to their water needs, also known as hydro zoning. Varieties that need regular water should be placed in the same area. To conserve water consider installing a drip irrigation system. Varieties that require less water should also be placed together.
A general "green" thumb rule for watering is only water when the soil is dry. Many fall vegetables are root vegetables that do not like to be too wet. The best water gauge is your finger. Insert one finger into the soil about one inch deep. If your finger comes out clean, it is time to water.
Efficient watering can be accomplished through hand watering or with a drip irrigation system. When hand watering, water the area briefly, turn off the hose and allow the water to seep into the ground, and water the area briefly again. Repeat the process until the soil is wet down about an inch. No need to water again until the soil is dry. A layer of mulch will also help keep the soil moist, conserving water in the process.
Growth and Harvest Congratulations! Your fall garden is mapped, planted, and watered. Now you can sit back and reap the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor and know that your beautiful bounty came together simply because you took a little time to plan!
This article is just a brief overview of how to plan your fall garden. For much more information on fall vegetable gardening, visit www.agrilifeextension.tamu.edu.
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