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Wednesday, July 12, 2006 02:32 pm

Time to start the fall garden

Hurry, if you want fresh vegetables before the first frost

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As you taste your first garden-fresh tomato of the season, thoughts of planting your next vegetable garden may be the furthest thing from your mind. However, now is the time to extend your supply of fresh vegetables by planting a fall garden. A late-season garden can include frost-tolerant and hardy vegetables that don’t grow well in the heat of the summer. Some, including broccoli and cauliflower, are actually of better quality because of the cooler weather when the heads are forming. Some vegetables to consider for your late-season garden are broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, snap beans, and carrots. These may be planted until about July 20. Keep in mind that the average date of the first frost in central Illinois is Oct. 7. Plantings of lettuce, spinach, turnips, kohlrabi, and radishes can be made in early September in central Illinois. Before planting a fall garden, clear the area of weeds and plant debris. Avoid working the soil unless it was not prepared in the spring. Begin your fall garden by planting seeds in accordance with package directions. Cover the seeds with potting soil to prevent crusting of the soil surface. The upper inch of soil should be kept moist until the seeds have germinated. During the summer, this can be a challenge; a light layer of straw or dried grass clippings may help hold moisture in seedbeds. Once seedlings have emerged, pull back the mulch and decrease the frequency of watering, but thoroughly soak the top 8 inches of soil when you do water. Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are best started as transplants. Set plants in the garden at the same level or just slightly lower than they were grown in the container. If the roots are compacted, loosen the roots by carefully breaking the soil ball apart. This loosening helps encourage better rooting in the garden soil. Carefully firm the soil around the plant and water well to eliminate air pockets. Water plants as needed to maintain uniform soil moisture. I have high hopes for my fall garden: Last year one of my master-gardener volunteers grew a broccoli head bigger than a basketball!
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