georgevandenberghe's WunderBlog

Fall gardening memo to DC area friends.

By: georgevandenberghe, 12:13 PM GMT on August 26, 2014

Sent this to friends. THought it might be of general interest.

Aug 25 at 8:00 PM
Many people start vegetable gardens in spring and are overwhelmed by other commitments, vacations, bugs, heat and drought. Summer gardens require attention several times a week. They also need a lot of sun, often hard to find in densely forested Hyattsville.

But there is a second gardening season with a different set of advantages, Fall/Winter. Winter has some potential because we don't get long deepfreeze winters (contrast with Minnesota) and the taper from fall to winter is gentle most years. And fall winter and spring are the best times to grow green leafy things here. The key month for starting a fall/winter garden here is August so this message is a little tardy. Life with three teens does that.

You can't grow warm season things like melons, squash, cucumbers, basil, tomatoes, peppers or corn in late fall. However you can grow spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, beets, peas (tricky) and spinach. Many greens will either make it well into December (Christmas or so) or overwinter. And there is no rush to harvest in winter.. what's ready this week will probably be ready this week next month because the cold almost stops plant development.

As with a summer garden the key is to start no larger than you can maintain. Unlike a summer garden though, most of the work for a fall garden is in the beginning in preparation and planting.

Siting a fall/winter garden is different from siting a summer garden. In summer you need sun, as much as possible. In early fall you still need sun but once the weather turns chilly, you just need some sun and exposure to the sky. In the cool season though it helps to have a large fraction of the sky obscured by obstacles like trees and a nearby house. This will add perhaps five degrees to night and early morning temperatures and also provide shelter from winds. If you can avoid it, early morning sun is also not ideal, it will warm frozen plants too fast. Midday and afternoon sun is better. A spot under conifers but with a good southern exposure would be good. The winter sun is low in the sky and will penetrate much further into a a spot overhung by trees to the north. For the same reason a south or west facing porch is ideal for container grown plants. An east facing porch will work but plants won't be as hardy because of that quick thawing sun. North facing is too dim even in winter.

Again I apologise for tardiness. This ideally would have been sent out in late July for planning. But if you have time labor day weekend you can still get a good start. Here are some ideas of what to plant and deadlines.

Peas. Short season varieties only such as Little Marvel (shelling) or Sugar Ann (snap) will definitely crop planted by Sept 1. It's probably too late for taller sugar snap peas unless you grow them in a large container on a porch. Then you can get away with planting up to August 30 or so. The best time to plant fall peas here is the first or second week in August.

Lettuce. You can seed lettuce up to about September 15 and expect a full size crop. Lettuce survives as mature plants up to about Thanksgiving in the open, possibly to Christmas in a container on the porch. Like many greens it tastes better grown in cool wehather. Seedlings planted Nov 15 will overwinter but larger plants are less hardy and will winterkill. There is a lot of variation in hardiness between varieties. Buttercrunch, otherwise a great variety, is too tender for early winter here. Red tinged varieties such as Rouge d'Hiver are about 5-10 degrees hardier. I have seed of both. You can either plant lettuce seeds in small flats or direct seed it. Plants will survive longer next to buildings or under trees but conifer needles are a real nuisance to clean out of harvested lettuce.

Broccoli must be grown from transplants. Seeds are planted in June or early July for a fall crop. Transplants are readily available at Home Depot or Behnke. It will usually crop around Thanksgiving and survive until deep cold in December or January. Brussels sprouts are grown like broccoli but will likely overwinter. The deadline for transplants is about Sept 1 in an open area to Sept 15 in a very protected spot.

Spinach is winter hardy in the DC area most years. Now to Sept 10 or so is the time to plant. Direct seed it. Don't buy transplants until after September 10.. earlier ones will bolt to seed. A planting as late as Halloween will make an April or May crop.

Carrots. The last half of August is a good time to plant overwintering carrots. They are sweeter and taste best when they mature in cold weather and will usually survive the winter. They bolt to seed the second year making Queen Anne's Lace flowers (They are the same species as Queen Anne's Lace) They must be direct seeded.

About two dozen carrots in a deep (6") windowbox might make a good growing project for small children. Lettuce and small peas also grow well in a window box. Tall peas grow well in a 2+ gallon container, about six pea plants per container. You will need 4' supports in or near the container for them. Broccoli, and Brussels sprouts should be grown in the open ground and because of the volume you'll want if it survives, spinach should also be grown in a large area. I've had problems getting spinach to establish in early fall. Crickets like the young seedlings.

You need to have ground dug and carrots and peas planted this weekend. You have till next weekend for broccoli and brussels sprouts transplants in the open. If your spot is protected e.g. under trees, you have another ten days or so to get them in because of the warmer nights in such spots.

If you can't dig the ground yet, you can start lettuce, spinach and peas in egg cartons or seed flats. The peas will need transplanting within ten days, the spinach and lettuce in 15-20 days.

gardening

Updated: 1:52 PM GMT on August 26, 2014

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