One of the perks of living in Alabama – though we may curse it sometimes – is the long growing season we get when fall comes with little to no change in temperature. Those sweltering hot days allow us to extend the tastes of summer into fall with tomato sandwiches, pickled okra and fresh herbs.
Plants are typically still producing at this point, but some parts of the garden probably need a bit of a facelift. By following these tips, fading summer plots could transition into a fall garden that will carry through to winter.
Avoid a late summer slump by getting outside in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest times of the day. Remove diseased or spent plants that are tuckered out for the season. It is best to burn or haul away any diseased plant material, rather than adding it to compost, to avoid spreading disease in the garden.
If you keep any plants that are still producing, make sure they are in tip-top shape. Prune the suckers off the tomato plants and deadhead and add extra twine to trellises if plants are toppling over. Remove any spent seed heads and remove flowers from herbs to keep them producing.
Go ahead and pull any weeds found along the way, especially where plants were removed, and there is now bare soil. Clean up any fruit that has dropped onto the ground in the removal process. Rotting fruits attract insect pests and critters.
Take note of what varieties were planted for the summer and make a map of where they were in the garden. Note-taking will determine which varieties did well and which should be avoided next year. Seasonal maps will help when it comes to crop rotation. It’s best to not plant the same plants in the same spot every year. Eventually, this will drain the nutrients from the soil and increase the number of disease problems plants could face.
Divide crops into groups: legumes, leafy, fruit and root crops. Divide the garden into four different sections, and plant one crop group per section. Each year, rotate crop groups by one section. For example, this year leafy greens may have been planted in section one, but next year, they should be planted in section two.
If plants are not going to be replaced in now empty or fallow areas of the garden, consider planting a cover crop. This will help to keep weeds at a minimum and will build up the soil with organic matter. For a short-term solution to preventing weeds, lay down a sheet of plastic, which will smother them and keep them at bay until something new is planted.
After determining a fall planting schedule, it’s time to get seeds and transplants going.
Extend harvests by staggering planting dates and/or using an assortment of plants with varying days to maturity (DTM). Each seed packet tells how many days from seed that each variety of plant will take to mature or produce.
Take a look at the area’s first frost date and compare this to the days to maturity. Make the most of the warmer weather by selecting varieties with shorter DTM. Stagger plantings by sowing seed every two to three weeks with the fewer days to maturity, or select varieties with short, mid and long DTM and make one single planting. This will extend the harvest, but the plants will grow more slowly after frost.
Make sure to amend the soil with fertilizer and compost prior to planting. This will replenish the soil with nutrients used by plants grown over the summer.
To protect against frost and freeze damage, try covering the beds with burlap or a floating row cover supported by stakes or wire to keep the material from directly touching the plants. Water the plants lightly during the day prior to covering. Remove the cover by mid-morning the next day.
It’s time to get that fall garden started. Happy gardening!
~Sidney Hancock is farm manager at New Water Farms in Dadeville.