August is filled with hot days and wilted plants. While we have been fortunate to receive afternoon showers the past few weeks, it is usually only a temporary respite for our lawns and gardens. With the promise of cooler temperatures blowing in during the next couple of months, this is an ideal time to begin planning for a fall vegetable garden.
As with spring gardens, till the soil and add lime and fertilizer as recommended by your soil test. In the absence of a soil test, start with 10 pounds of 10-10-10 per 1,000 square feet. Follow the label directions if you are using a liquid fertilizer.
Crops such as cabbage, lettuce, onion, greens, peppers and radish are considered heavier feeders and require more fertilization.
Fall vegetables vary in the number of days required to reach maturity. A radish plant can take as few as 25 days to mature, while carrots, lettuce and cabbage can take up to 80 days. To maintain a constant supply of lettuce and radish, seed every couple of weeks through early October.
Transplants can be set out later. For instance, onion transplants can be set out through the fall and winter. However, they do best when put out before Dec. 1. Elephant garlic can be planted in October and asparagus in November and December. Listed below are some crops that might interest you.
Before Aug. 1 (plant these immediately!): Pole beans, lima beans and butter peas.
Before Aug. 15: Bush snap beans, cucumbers, bell pepper and cauliflower.
Before Sept. 1: Broccoli, collards and kale.
Before Sept. 15: Carrots, mustard and turnip.
Sept. 1 to Oct. 15: Lettuce (until Oct. 1), radish, spinach and onion.
It is important to consider the number of days to maturity when we think ahead to our first frost date. As with spring plantings, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature.
According to the National Weather Service, the average date for the first freeze in Macon is Nov. 15. Within the last 12 years, the first frost has fallen as early as Oct. 28 and as late as Dec. 6. That is a wide disparity when considering how much your vegetable garden might be able to produce.
Water is just as important now as it was early in the season. For establishment, water enough to keep the soil moist. As the plants grow, slowly move toward watering twice a week. To gauge how much water is needed, feel the soil around the root systems.
Adding mulch is an important step in vegetable gardening. This will reduce weeds, protect against temperature changes and conserve water. For an added layer of protection, consider putting down a couple of layers of newspaper under the mulch.
Unfortunately, the cooler fall temperatures don’t mean that we’ll be free from insects and disease. Mulching, proper spacing to allow adequate air circulation, fertilization and watering are necessary to maintain the vigor of your plants, which will help defend against insects and disease pressure.
Scouting for problems on a regular basis will be much easier than dealing with widespread problems. As always, proper pest identification is crucial prior to using chemicals.
For more information on vegetable gardening, stop by your local extension office.
Master Naturalist Program: Environmental education program to equip adults with a better understanding of local natural resources. Classes will be offered 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays throughout September and October. In addition to field trips, course content will be taught by speakers who are subject experts in their fields, including university professors and natural resources professionals. The cost of the class is $255, which may be payable in two installments. Registration deadline is Aug. 14. Call the Bibb County Extension office at 478-751-6338 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for registration information.