AUTUMN IS LIKE another spring in our mild growth area in the Pacific Northwest. With a little seasonal planning, now through September is your window to plant another round of cool seasonal crops for fall and winter harvest.
When it comes to deciding what to plant, think of leafy greens like chard, kale, arugula and lettuce. So remnants of pea seeds thick to produce a crop of tasty greens with sweet pea flavor, even though the plants do not produce pods. Ripe root vegetables, such as carrots, beets and beets, hold up well in the “outdoor refrigerator”, which is the conservatory. And if you plant budding broccoli in the fall to overwinter and produce in early spring, you avoid annoying caterpillars and other summer pests.
Transplants put in the still warm soil in summer and early autumn get off to a quick start. But while tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and other summer crops enjoy the heat, most fall and winter crops certainly do not. Many seeds of cool seasonal crops do not germinate in warm soil because the conditions are not suitable for growth – these are seeds with a sense of self-preservation.
Fortunately, many local nurseries bring in vegetable starters for the fall and winter gardens. For the largest selection of selected varieties, however, it pays to learn a few seasonal secrets that allow you to cheat the heat and grow your own transplants.
Calculate when to start planting individual crops by looking up information on “days to maturity” included on most seed packets, and, in a reversal of accelerating growth in the spring, add a few weeks to account for cooling weather and declining light levels. Now count backwards from the estimated first frost date to determine the best planting date. The first frost dates for western Washington range from mid-October in colder areas to mid-November in the coastal areas and around Puget Sound.
Most people do not consider transplanting vegetables from one part of the garden to another, but summer sowing is the perfect time to try this practice. In hot weather, it is much easier to care for seedlings grown in the ground instead of caring for a number of small plastic pots that need to be watered several times a day during a heat wave. Creating a temporary home for fall and winter transplants concentrates your care on one area while ensuring your plants are ready and waiting to be put out in the garden as soon as the summer crops are harvested.
Place your “crib” in a part of the garden that at least gets a bit of a shady shade, ideally located near a convenient water source. Change the soil with compost and grate it to a fine texture before sowing short rows or blocks of seeds in the well-prepared bed. Moist jute laid directly on the surface of your seedbed helps retain moisture – just make sure to keep a close eye on and remove the coating as soon as seedlings appear. A double layer of gardening fleece also works and “floats” to protect new seedlings from strong summer sun.
Once seedlings are about 3 inches tall or have four to six true leaves, the young plants can be carefully dug, separated, and transplanted into areas of the garden as space becomes available. It is important to keep your seedlings and transplants evenly moist. Autumn rain has never looked so good.