Fall into fresh vegetables

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

My first recollections of my dad in the vegetable garden are images of him pushing a large wheeled cultivator the length of the garden in order to make a furrow for planting. Why this sticks in my mind, I don't know. I can remember nothing about helping, playing in the garden or harvesting.

I do remember vividly my first involvement in gardening. It was my job to till the ground in the spring in anticipation of planting. Of course, tillers were not on the market at that time. If they were, I sure didn't know anything about them.

My tiller was a long handle spade. I would stretch a string across the width of the garden and then begin turning the compacted one spade full at a time along the string until I spanned the width of the garden. It was important to turn your rows in straight lines. No upstanding farmer would even consider the slightest dogleg in any row. Straight rows were the next thing to godliness.

Now that I had a straight line to follow, I would turn another row of soil. This process continued for an hour or two each day until the entire length of the garden was tilled.

After turning the soil, the next job was to smooth the soil with a garden rake. It seemed that it would take me forever to get done so that Dad and our neighbor could begin their spring planting.

Although spring is the traditional time to put in a vegetable garden, I never seem to get one planted at that time. There are always more things to do in fewer hours each spring. Between working at the garden center, working in the greenhouses, doing a little landscape planting, writing and attending grandchildren functions, the vegetable garden is low on my priority list.

Because I do like to garden I have found out that planting a fall garden works into my schedule a lot better. I can till the garden during the lazy days of summer. Of course, I may need to water the bare soil first in order to get the soil to work properly.

In addition, I have found that as the garden begins to "come up and come on," fewer weeds rear their ugly heads. There seems to be less competition with other plants in the fall garden compared to a spring garden. Hoeing an cultivation take a lot less time.

Working in a fall garden seems to be a lot more enjoyable because the temperatures are beginning to get cooler as the garden progresses. No more picking beans when the temperatures are over 100 degrees. You may even had to pick them in the evenings when you are wearing a light jacket. I prefer the no-sweat garden.

After talking about fall gardens to many died-in-the wool, professionally gardeners, I have found that quite often yields are better. We generally get more moisture in the fall than during the summer. God's rain just does a better job of watering that does man's rain.

Are there any drawbacks to fall gardening? Unfortunately most growers are burned out by the time spring is over. They are not interested in growing bedding plants for the few fall gardeners. In addition, it is hard to find fresh seed from seed companies. Therefore, find a good garden center that carries seed and plants for fall gardening.

The only other drawback is that there are few crops that are grown in the fall. It is tough to get tomatoes, corn, pumpkins and peppers for fall crops because of the length of the growing season that they require. Otherwise, most crops are on the menu.

If you want to try a fall garden, get started as soon as possible. You can start with cole crops such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Find plants at this time of the year. If you can't find plants then try to start these seeds yourself next year around the first of August. Another fall favorite with gardeners is Chinese cabbage.

Most fall gardeners plant mustards, spinach and lettuce. They also put in summer squash and zucchini. And don't forget beans. Contender beans mature in just 50 days, so you have plenty of time for a good fall crop.

If you really get into fall gardening, you can plant carrots, beets and peas. The possibilities are endless. Just use your imagination, check maturity dates on the seeds that you want to plant and get going.

Just because spring and summer are over doesn't mean you have to give up gardening. Find crops that will work in your gardening situation and enjoy fresh vegetables from the garden at Thanksgiving.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to news@semissourian.com.

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