By: Dr. Judy Stout, Mobile County Master Gardener | www.MobileCountyMasterGardeners.org
Q. Our family loved our first spring vegetable garden as something we could do together and outdoors. We even began to eat a little healthier and the kids discovered how good vegetables that they plant and harvest can be. The summer heat killed both our plants and our enthusiasm. Now that it has cooled a little, can we have a fall/winter garden? What should we plant?
A. Oh, yeah!! Since we live in zones 8 and 9a (near the coast) we have perfect mild late fall and winter weather for a large variety of edibles, many of which can tolerate some frost and even get tastier after a cold spell. Unlike our spring veggies that are mostly the fruit of pollinated flowers (e.g, squash, beans, cucumbers, and corn) fall edibles are predominantly leaves, stems or roots of the plant. Many fall vegetables can be served raw or cooked. It is tempting to grow too many varieties, and more than your family can use. Choose vegetables you already like and then add a few new ones to experiment with and add to your palates. Salad greens, radishes, carrots, etc., to be harvested in small amounts can be planted in large containers or raised beds.
Leafy options include lettuces, kale, collards, mustard greens, Chinese greens (Chinese cabbage, bok choi and tat soi), and spinach. Carrots, turnips, radishes, beets, and rutabagas are popular root crops. Then we have the sort of weird and fun, closely related ‘cole’ crops from the German word for cabbage (Think cole slaw!). We eat the stems and flower buds of broccoli and the side branch buds of Brussels sprouts. Cabbages and cauliflower have such short stems and compressed leaves we do not even notice the stalk unless we are the cook and cut up the head in preparation! For seasoning and enhancing the flavor of dishes, we have the opportunity to start various onion-type roots (including shallots, multiplying onions, scallions, and leeks). Garlic can also be planted for a later harvest.
Cultivation: Site in full sun. Remove old garden debris and weeds. Plant in loose, fertile soil with good drainage and a 6.0 -7.0 pH. Fertilize lightly when planted and a month or so afterwards with a balanced fertilizer. Make sure it contains micronutrients because some of these veggies are sensitive to deficiencies such as magnesium and boron. Most leafy vegetables also benefit from an application of nitrogen three and six weeks after planting. Water regularly about 1” per week between rains but do not keep soil soggy.
Another big difference between spring and fall varieties is the difference in seed size. Most spring planted seeds, but not all, are relatively large, and easily handled and spaced. In general, fall planted varieties have very small seeds that are a challenge when trying to evenly plant, must not be buried too deeply (1⁄4” to 1⁄2”), and must maintain surface moisture until seeds germinate.
For tiniest seeds like carrots and leafy greens, keep soil surface moist until seeds germinate. You may want to cover lightly with a thin layer of newspaper or light weight burlap that is kept moist until seedlings are about 1”. Hard-coated seeds of spinach and chard benefit from an overnight soaking before planting to speed germination. Repeated or “succession” planting about every two to three weeks of frequently harvested (see below) leafy crops will maintain a good supply throughout the season.
Subsequently, at about 2” tall young seedlings must be thinned to prevent crowding and encourage full size at maturity. Snip with scissors close to the soil and save discards to add to salad. Check seed labels or the resources below for proper spacing.
In addition to starting your garden from seeds, you can purchase started seedlings from local feed and seed stores and transplant to your garden. I prefer to use transplants rather than seeds for cole crops that have longer times to maturity and harvest. You can start them also from seeds but for me it is too hot in August to be bothered!
Purchase strong, healthy seedlings. If transplants have thin, “leggy” stems, plant deeper than usual to give the plant greater support for the tops. Other vegetable choices, like onion-types and garlic can be started from seeds, but to get a better start, plant “sets.”
Harvest: Leafy vegetables are “cut-and-come-again” plants. Carefully pick lower, outside leaves when young, tender, and sweet and the plant will continue to produce for you. Cabbages and cauliflower will give you only one head per plant and should be cut at ground level as needed. Harvest the head when it is about six to eight inches across before they split or become tough and strong tasting. Remove and discard the remaining parts of the plant. Harvest broccoli when a nice head is formed. Remove only heads because smaller side sprouts will grow next to the leaves for a later second harvest. If you wait a little too late, flower buds and yellow flowers may form. These are quite edible and a novel new vegetable when cooked with the green parts of the broccoli! Brussels sprouts begin to form from the bottom up, hidden along the stalk just above and among the leaves. Carefully twist off or cut when about one inch across leaving babies for later harvest as they enlarge. You will probably be surprised by the tender, delicate taste of young sprouts if all you have experienced is larger ones sold in bags or frozen!
Root crops vary in harvest times. Carrots, rutabagas, radishes, turnips are best when young and pulled as needed. Shallots, leeks, scallions and multiplying onions can be harvested as needed but leave globe onions and garlic until leaves begin to brown and fall over. Reduce watering to allow dry skins to form around bulbs and garlic clusters. Pull and allow to dry then remove leaves and roots for storage.
More details and best selections for south Alabama can be found at www.aces.edu.
Planting Guide for Home Gardening in Alabama. Alabama Cooperative Extension Services, ANR0063.
Basics of Fall Vegetable Gardening. Alabama Cooperative Extension Services, ANR1422.
For Your Calendar:
What: Mobile County Master Gardener Greenery Sale,
Gulf Coast Herb Society, Mobile Botanical Gardens HOLIDAY MARKET
Order Online: Beginning Nov 2, 2020
When: Order by Nov 20 for discount pricing and best selections
(Prices increase by 15% Nov 21-30)
Contactless pick-up available, choose time at check-out.
One-Stop Shop: www.MBGReBloomshop.com
In Person Shop or pick-up time: By Appointment
Wed Dec 2 and Thurs Dec 3 (1 pm - 3 pm)
Fri Dec 4 (9 am – 3 pm)
Sat Dec 5 (9 am – 1 pm)
Where: MBG, 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile 36608
What: Bellingrath Gardens Fall Events
-Cascading Chrysanthemums, Nov 1-30, 8-5 daily
-Christmas Masquerade Gala, Nov 20, 6:30-9 pm
-Christmas Lights at Bellingrath Nov 27-Dec 31, 5-9pm
For More Info: bellingrath.org