Just a couple of weekends ago, I started a second planting of tomatoes. Last weekend, it was squash and beans for a fall harvest. This weekend, I’m making room for some of the “other,” oft-forgotten vegetables. I’m thinking broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, turnips, spinach and a few more.
These cool-season veggies are grown a lot in the spring. But depending on the weather, they will often grow and produce better in the fall.
A blast of quick, hot temperatures in the spring can bring cool-season vegetables to a screaming halt. When those hot temperatures come in early and decide to stay, vegetable plants like turnips and cauliflower will bolt. “Bolting” is when the plant starts sending up flowers and going to seed; the plant can also become woody and unfit to eat.
When planted in the fall, however, there is plenty of time for harvesting before inclement weather. Last year, the mild winter meant year-round gardening, without having to offer protection for any plants. If you like collards, they are better with a little “frostbite.”
Fall vegetable gardens for cool-season crops usually start with seeds instead of transplants. Almost all of the cool season crops can be seeded with the exception of a few, such as onions and Irish potatoes.
Seeds are cheaper than transplants, but there is always a negative. Dry weather means soils easily crust over and seeds hesitate to germinate. Keeping the seed beds moist is a must. For newly planted seeds, think frequent, shallow watering. You don’t want those seeds to sit in dry soil.
When to plant?
Start by looking on the seed packet, to see how many days it will take for the plant to mature.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has a planting calendar online at www.aces.edu.
Planting calendars may give instructions such as, “Plant four weeks before first frost.” What does that mean? The “first fall frost” is the first day in the fall when there is a possibility of frost or freezing temperatures.
Of course, it is impossible to pinpoint the first day (or last day) that there will be a frost. But by taking weather data over the years, a mean first and last frost date can be set.
The “average” part of “average first frost date” in the fall means there is a 10 percent chance of a frost before that date. In the spring, “average last frost date” means there is a 10 percent chance of a frost after that date.
The best place to look for this data is the National Climatic Data Center, www7.ncdc.noaa.gov/CDO/cdo. The NCDC has stations in every state and updates the data regularly.
Here in Alabama, we can divide the state into thirds to determine planting dates. Remember that there is a 10 percent chance of frost before or after these dates.
North Alabama: Last spring frost April 12, first fall frost Nov. 19.
Central Alabama: Last spring frost March 26, first fall frost Nov. 29.
South Alabama: Last spring frost March 21, first fall frost Dec. 19.
Now, you have your seeds, you have your planting dates — what is stopping you from planting year-round?
Danielle Carroll is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.