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Fall Gardening Starts In Summer
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Most Mississippians think spring is the best time for gardening. But if you haven't tried a fall garden, consider putting one in now because it can be the best garden you have.
Fall-grown produce is better because it ripens in a cooler, less stressful time of the season. It suffers less from sunburn or sunscald, and fall has fewer insects and diseases.
When should you plant? One way to figure this out is to count backwards from the first freeze annually. For the sake of example, let's say Nov. 1.
How many days are there from planting the seed until first harvest? Let's presume something like 60 days. Do you expect your plant to produce for maybe 30 to 60 days?
From these numbers, you can see it's planting time now for crops that can take no frost. Crops like broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach can be planted a little later.
Cutting back or carrying tomatoes through summer for fall production is a source of many an argument. Spring-planted tomatoes can be cut back for renewed fall production only if the plants are healthy and free of insect problems. Trying to carry an unhealthy plant through the summer usually means disaster.
I prefer planting young tomato transplants now. But if the tomatoes are to be cut back, avoid removing too much foliage since hot weather can burn the plants to death. After pruning, apply additional fertilizer and water to renew growth and increase tomato production well into fall. I promise you will be a star when you serve homegrown ripened tomatoes for Christmas.
Similar questions are asked about fall-grown okra. Okra can be cut back, but it might be better to make a mid-summer planting instead. When pruned, the plants develop a bush rather than a single stalk which usually makes harvesting difficult. Pruning should be done 80 to 100 days before the first anticipated fall frost. This allows the plants time to produce additional pods.
One problem many Mississippi gardeners face is getting the seed to come up when planted during the heat of the summer. This is especially true for cold-hardy vegetables like broccoli, carrots or lettuce that germinate poorly when the soil temperature is high.
To help seeds germinate, prepare a bed or ridge for planting. Mark off rows and use a hoe handle or stick to make a seed furrow usually about 1 inch deep. Water the loosened soil in the seed furrow to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. After the water has soaked in, scatter the seeds evenly along the furrow.
Instead of garden soil, cover the seeds with a material such as compost, potting soil or peat moss. This provides a better environment for seed germination and prevents soil crusting.
After the seeds have emerged, consider using something like cardboard, or a old roofing shingle placed on the west side of the row to shade the plants from the intense afternoon heat. This is also a good idea for tomato, pepper or cole crop transplants.
If you are like me, the back and knees can get tired bending down to plant seeds. An easy way to get seeds right where you want them is by using a PVC pipe. Cut about 4 feet long, this becomes a handy tool as you simply drop the seeds through the pipe to your desired location.
Even though it is hot now, try fall gardening. When you harvest, the temperature will be cool and the produce will be mighty tasty.