It’s hard to think of planting fall vegetables in this 90-degree weather. However, we are quickly approaching the cut-off time to get fall vegetables started from seed. Think about planting leafy greens (collards, lettuce, kale, spinach, turnip greens) and root crops (beets, carrots, Irish potatoes, turnip roots). Add additional, prolific vegetables like bush beans, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, peas, radish, squash and some tomatoes to that guideline and you will have another production of vegetables this fall.
Fall vegetables are quick-producing crops and cool season crops and as such can be problematic for germinating in our August weather. One “trick” is to keep them shaded so they don’t scorch or dry out. I know of one Master Gardener who has recommended germinating them in moist ground, covered by cardboard until the sprouts appear. Once they are out, gradually “harden” the sprouts to the summer sun over several days until the cardboard can be removed altogether.
In an ideal garden in this area, the gardener replaces spent plants and crops throughout the growing season, which starts in February. Some will refer to this method as “square foot gardening.” The new plants that are placed into a spent area of the garden should be different than what just finished growing there. This one action will minimize insect attacks on the newly planted vegetables. Also, you may need to add nitrogen fertilizer as a side dressing to the vegetables planted at the end of the growing season or following a previous crop. Nitrogen gets used up quickly and additional application will surely assist in production.
As we will run into the first hard frost (approximately Oct. 13 in Murfreesboro) with fall gardening, see if you can plan to extend the growing season. Cover the crops on a projected freeze-by-freeze basis; grow them under a heat retention system that can be ventilated; consider planting in a hoop house. We can usually count on the growing season extending with an Indian summer after the first freeze. We do have mild winters here so with the exception of a few weeks at the beginning of the year, we can be food producers almost year-round.
As a side note, when you are not growing vegetables in your garden, consider growing a cover crop that can be plowed into the soil before it seeds. Why? Several reasons—open, bare fields lose nutrients and topsoil. As gardeners, we want to keep both. Select the best cover crop by deciding the need or use the crop will fulfill. Common goals are often to provide nitrogen, add organic matter, reduce soil erosion, provide weed control, manage nutrients and supply a killed mulch.
A study at UT Ag confirmed the best time to plant cover crops is in October. The vegetable production is minimal or finished, and November plantings are getting too late for a high germination. It was also noted that two cover crops, a grain and a legume, do result in optimum benefits for both. A grain/legume planting in early to mid October would generate the highest soil coverage for the spring as well as a good nitrogen fix. Either rye, triticale or wheat planted with hairy vetch, winter pea or crimson clover would achieve this goal.
As the fall season approaches and the end of the vegetables is in sight, select seed for next year from productive plants. Do not bother to save seed from hybrids as the production from second-year hybrid seed is non-existent or defective. Save seed only from heirloom plants.
Use the RC Farmers Market YouTube channel as a resource. The Rutherford County Farmers Market, held at 315 John R. Rice Blvd. each Tuesday and Friday, offers free classes at 9 a.m. in the Community Center in the Lane AgriPark. This is a producers-only market, so come meet the people who are producing what you are buying.
Aug. 1: Backyard Chickens 101 – Kim Hall, Extension Agent
We’ll discuss issues related to chickens in your backyard. Topics include breed selection, housing, feeding, flock health and city/county regulations.
Aug. 4: Koi Ponds – Kim Hall, Extension Agent
Learn how to incorporate koi ponds to enhance your yard’s beauty.
Aug. 8: Preparing for Disaster: Emergency Food Kit – Misty Layne-Watkins, Extension Agent
It’s best to be prepared for any disaster that may strike. This class will teach you the function and importance of an Emergency Food Kit as well as how to prepare one.
Aug. 11: Butterfly Gardening – Linda Lindquist, Certified Master Gardener
Bring beautiful butterflies to your garden with helpful tips.
Aug. 15: Intensive Gardening Techniques – Richard Lee, Certified Master Gardener
Ask more of your garden! Make the most of your space and harvest greater yields all season long using intensive gardening strategies.
Aug. 18: Learn to Quilt – Quilting Bees of Murfreesboro
Participants will have the opportunity to sew a block of their own to take home or to contribute to a community quilt. All experience levels welcome.
Aug. 22: Water: Our Most Threatened Resource – Cynthia Allen, MTSU; and Katie Peay, Rutherford County Planning & Engineering
“Drop in the Bucket” is an interactive lesson showing our limited resources.
Aug. 25: Healthy Beginnings, Making Smart Breakfast Choices – Tiffany Schmidt, Extension Agent; Kim Munter-Verge and Karla Erazo, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program
Fun, easy and healthy breakfast ideas and recipes. Eat the right amount of calories for you based on your age, sex, height, weight and physical activity level.
Aug. 29: Seasonal Eating – Carla Bush, Extension Agent
Eat what’s in season! It’s easy on the wallet, and what could be better than food at its peak of flavor, texture and nutrition?