By Shannon McCabe, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/rareseeds.com
Photographs courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Many gardeners find their plots burned out and tired by August. The verdant spring greens are long gone and the midsummer crops were here and gone in a flash. This is the perfect time to plant your fall garden. Employ these tips and try these crops and you can expect a bountiful fall harvest.
Timing is everything when planting for a fall harvest. You will want to consider a few factors in order to determine planting dates. The first is your area’s first frost date. This is easily found online if you search frost dates for your county or zip code. Of course microclimates will factor in, but this is a good way to get a baseline. For example, the first expected frost date in Mansfield, MO is about October 10th. Next you will need to check your packet of seeds to determine how many days to maturity the crop will require. This information is typically mentioned on the back of your seed packet. For example, most carrots mature in about 55-75 days depending on the variety.
Finally you must take into account the mild late summer days. Crops tend to grow a bit slower after the summer solstice, so you will need to add about 2 weeks to the days to maturity listed on your seed pack in order to reliably predict how long the crop will truly take to produce. So when planting a 55 day carrot variety, you should add 14 days to that, making it about a 70 day carrot. With this essential information you can count back to determine ideal planting dates. Of course, remember that August is quite warm, so you will need to employ some tricks for keeping seeds and seedlings cool in the heat of summer. Plant carrot or lettuce seeds in the protected shade of a towering wall of cucumber or tomatoes to keep the heat sensitive seeds cool and moist. You can also use a shade cloth. You will need to water your plants more frequently during August as well.