8 July 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
What does such a vegetable feast declare-beets, carrots, cauliflower, Swiss chard, collards, endive, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, onion seed, Bibb lettuce, leaf lettuce, potatoes, radish, rutabaga, spinach and turnips? All these aspire for a place in your garden, this fall in Virginias piedmont.
The frost that would typically ruin more tender summer players, like tomatoes and eggplant, will sweeten autumns stronger flavors. The soft warm days and cool evenings of early fall will brighten the crunch and color of these greens and roots.
With average first frost dates of October 10th to the 29th, one can safely put in late season crops July 10th to the 24th.
If the bed is now vacant and undressed from spring and summer harvests, replenish its nutrients with aged compost or manure. At planting, plan for damp soil either after a soaking rain, or deep watering at 6" the day before. Root crops appreciate a 12" raised bed with good drainage or its equivalent at grade, a hard thing, literally, to do with our slick clay.
To keep the soil moist during germination, apply a light and lacey straw mulch. Then as they mature, suppress weeds and conserve moisture by thickening the cover to 3", between plants or transplants.
Avoid insect pests and disease by changing locations, a different spot from last year or better still, the last 3 years.
The autumn vegetable party will end for cauliflower and spinach, which dont dance through winter but they also wont need to leave at the first frost.
Some, with an 8" mantle of mulch will stay through the colder season, even to springs lengthening days-carrots, kale, lettuce, spinach, evergreen bunching onion, parsley, parsnip, and salsify. The others planted in July will keep them company as well.
If you can provide a root cellar, a cool safe place, then the roots can be harvested when young and tender. Some will become coarse and stringy but moist as they lengthen their time in the earth.
As you set in the seed or the transplant, in mid-summer, prepare your perennial vegetables, too. At the first killing frost, cut rhubarb and asparagus to the ground, apply a top-dressing of manure or compost, sandwiched below a layer of mulch.
Remember the brambleberries but first clear out the weeds and let no more have their advantage; so mulch thickly, as thin mulch gives weed seed a firm foothold. Strawberries like straw. Surprise! But put on only a light flurry of it, or moldy things will grow and rot the runners. These are but a few of your mid-summer chores with cool promises of winter delights.
Tip of the Week
Fruit pies motivate many gardeners to search for that trouble-free main ingredient. I have one word-rhubarb. There's nothing to prune or spray. Make the bed airy, moist and sunlit for 6+ hours. There'll be no large critter damage. Rabbits and deer won't touch it. Be patient though. Itll take three years for a thick-stalk harvest. Yum.