Once garden debris is removed, many gardeners call it quits until next spring. But while still harvesting tomatoes and peppers, fall and winter gardeners can start growing cool season veggies like turnips, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, garlic, onions, cabbage, lettuce, radishes and more. Spring in Alabama usually does not stay cool very long and these cooler season vegetables may bolt (produce seeds) or become bitter in the heat. Cooler fall temperatures and a light frost bring out the flavor in some of these veggies.
Fall is also a great time to soil sample the garden. Those who do not garden in the cooler months can work the recommended lime into the soil to raise the pH for next year. Cool season gardeners can incorporate lime into the soil with fertilizer when preparing the fall gardening beds. Northern areas plant a little earlier and the Southern areas plant a little later. Most fall veggies in Alabama are planted in August and September. Transplants can be used if you get a late start, but most of the cooler season veggies can be started by seed. This means that good bed preparation is necessary. Most of the veggies I have mentioned have tiny seeds — very tiny. Planting too deep will inhibit germination. A good rule of thumb is to plant seeds about 2 or 3 times as wide as the seed. That’s not very deep for some of these tiny seeds.
We are entering what is traditionally a dry part of the year so seeds will need to be lightly watered everyday. If not, our soils are prone to crusting and seeds may not germinate. I usually do not recommend the use of sprinklers in the garden because of increased foliar diseases, but sprinklers are great for seed beds. Keep the seeds and soil moist until seeds have germinated and young seedlings are growing.
It is not uncommon for fall gardeners to see increased pest problems. After all, pests have been building up their numbers since spring, so keep a watchful eye on veggie plants. Early detection is a great method of control. Keep plants healthy — healthy plants better withstand insects and disease. Use only approved organic pesticides.
Most cool season vegetables are hardy and will survive through the winter months. For those that may need a little help, you can extend the season with row covers. Floating row covers and burlap are often used. Use stakes or wires to support the row cover keeping them from directly touching the plants. Semi-hardy vegetables should be harvested before the first freeze and root crops like carrots should be either harvested or mulched heavily before a hard freeze. Pictures with floating row covers along with planting dates for cool season veggies can be found in the fall gardening publication (ANR 1422) on the Alabama Extension System website at www.aces.edu.