Plan now for a fall garden
By Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University, Master Gardener
It is time to get busy on the autumn garden. We still have several weeks of summer, but it is time to plant crops that will mature and be harvested in the cooler days to come.
Perhaps the most planted fall crop in this area is turnips. Turnips may be harvested for greens when the tops are only a couple of weeks old. They will begin forming their bulbs in a month or so and may be harvested any time. It just depends on how large you like your turnips.
When planted in the fall, turnips are less likely to bolt than those planted in the spring, so the harvest time may extend into winter. They can take some frost, and the bulbs will remain usable until a hard freeze.
By now, the spring greens and peas are done, and that real estate is perfect for turnips. If you had early potatoes and have dug them, you may plant turnips there also. Actually, you may plant turnips about anywhere you have soil that is not growing another crop.
Planting is also easy. Most people do not plant turnips in rows but simply broadcast the seeds in a bed. Mixing the seed in a granulated fertilizer accomplishes a dual purpose. It helps space the seeds for growing area and also feeds the crop.
There is plenty of reason to plant turnips. Even if you do not like turnips, they are good for next year’s garden. They make a good cover crop that can be turned into the soil next spring.
They may also be used to feed livestock, and I have known many people who plant turnips in plots adjacent to wooded areas just to feed the deer and other wildlife.
There are several other crops that do well when planted now for fall harvest.
Most salad greens do better now than when planted in the spring. Spring growings of such crops often get bitter and bolt when the weather warms. In the cooler days of fall, such crops will produce for a longer harvest period.
Cole crops, including cabbage and broccoli, also do well as fall crops, as do cooking greens, such as spinach, mustard and kale.
Oriental greens such as pak choy, bok choy and Chinese cabbage also do well when planted for fall harvest. Micheli-type Chinese cabbage stores very well in a refrigerator vegetable crisper, so, if you have the room in the fridge, you may enjoy this healthy snack through the winter.
Unfortunately, the hardest part of growing these crops is finding the seed at this time of the year. Many garden centers have taken seeds off the sales floor and even those who have kept the seeds out often do not stock some of the specialty seeds. Some mail-order companies will ship quickly for an extra fee, so you may have the seeds in time to get them planted.
In addition to the traditional fall crops, many summer crops that mature quickly can still be planted for a late harvest.
Most seed packets have a “days to maturity” statement. If that number is less than 100 days, you will probably get a crop if planting seeds now.
Of course, when frost threatens in the fall, you then may take steps to cover and protect crops that still need time to mature. The advantage to planting summer crops late is that disease and insect cycles may be completed and you may be able to get green beans without beetle damage.
Ornamental gardeners may also plant for the autumn season. Of course, you will be planting bulbs for spring blooms, but you may also plant seeds now for fall flowers.
Just like the veggies, seed packets will have a maturity time. It is important to have plenty of flowers in bloom in the fall to provide the nectar needed by hummingbirds and monarch butterflies for their migration flights.
Plant some late cosmos, zinnias and marigolds to entice the butterflies and hummingbirds to visit your garden as they pass through the area.