I love the transitions to a new season and this year has been another exceptional year in the Pacific Northwest for the vegetable garden. Now that the last picking of pole beans has happened, the garlic is drying in a dark location along with the lavender, thyme and sage and the indeterminate tomatoes continue to flourish, it is an appropriate time to reflect what went right and how do I want to proceed with fall maintenance and planting for an extended crop.
Always the old question comes up: how do I refresh the soil before the rains begin? I always replenish with up to four inches of planting compost, and every other year I plant a cover crop to add nitrogen to the soil. This year is not a cover crop year for me but if you're doing that aspect, now's a good time to broadcast your seeds before the night temperatures get down into the mid-40s. Swansons has great information on how to use garden cover crops.
Now that the heatwaves are hopefully behind us, I've started refreshing the soil and started sets for lettuce, kale, onions, spinach and arugula. I always add an organic vegetable fertilizer to each hole I dig for the starts. If I were planting seeds, I would cover them with a Harvest Guard product to protect them from severe sunlight and to keep the birds from choosing to munch on the rich and tasty new shoots.
If I had more space in my garden, I could also add chard, cauliflower, and broccoli, which do well as fall crops. But I've learned a big lesson after all these years: to not plant my rows too close to each other. Will I ever learn to not do this? Probably not as my excitement over the renewal of spring means I usually overplant. However, being a P-Patch gardener, that over-abundance can easily be donated to the food bank. I've found that fall plants do better if planted with a little more space than in the spring as the cooler temperatures and less light mean larger roots and more flavor. This lesson, I've finally learned but it's still hard to restrain myself.
As a P-Patch gardener, I also get to experience crops I might not have room to plant in my own plot, like these gorgeous pumpkins in the garden next to mine that will be used for a kids' event.
I've stopped worrying about the mildew on the summer squash and cucumbers as that is a reality of gardening this time of year. My plants continue to produce even though the leaves are reflecting the end of a productive season. Rather than being compulsive and making my garden look perfect, I'm enjoying seeing each season's effect on the greens and have come to realize those remarkable plants continue to thrive even when compromised. However, if it is a real concern, sulfur spray can be used to combat the infestation (and I don't put leaves with mildew in my compost).
I always get excited about planting garlic this time of year with October being the classic month for planting for a midsummer harvest in late June. My success rate was not something to rave about until I added lots of compost and sand to the area where I could find the most light and this year I've had the biggest heads ever. I'm always thinking about what went right and wrong this summer season so I can make it better next year.
So, it's time to think about your choices. What plants do well for fall planting? How do I protect them? Do I want to use a cover crop? How do I enhance the soil? Do I build a cloche for protection?
Answers to these questions are easily answered by Swansons' helpful Northwest Gardening Tips web page, by tagging #heyswansons on social media, or by stopping by the information booth for in-person problem solving.
If this blog raises specific questions for you, I'm always available to provide you with more helpful information! Just comment below.
Happy autumn gardening,