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Over the Garden Fence: 08/01/2014

Planting the late summer and fall vegetable garden



Early August is the time to plan and plant the late summer and fall vegetable garden in the Sonoma Valley.

At the beginning of August, there are still 90 to 120 frost-free growing days left. That is more than enough time to plant a “Second Summer Harvest” of tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans. In the next two to four weeks, you can also sow cool-weather crops for the year's “Second Spring Harvest.”

The key to planting vegetables in mid- to late- summer is timing. Plant the late summer and autumn vegetable garden so that the crops reach maturity and harvest before or on about the average date of the first frost in fall. The average first frost in the Sonoma Valley comes around Nov. 15; some years it comes earlier, but the past several years the first frost has arrived later - even in mid-December.

Second Summer Harvest

If you want to grow your second - or even your first - garden of summer vegetables this year, the key to success is choosing beans, cucumbers, and other warm-season crops that will be ready for harvest 90 days or fewer from seed sowing. There is still time to plant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, but you will want to start those crops from seedlings already 4 to 6 weeks old. Check local nurseries to see if they still have summer vegetable starts on hand. (Harmony Farms Nursery in Graton grows its own vegetable starts, so that would be a good place to start.)

Check the days to maturity on seed packets; choose crops that want 90 days or fewer to reach harvest. Bush beans, many cucumber varieties, determinate tomatoes, and baby melons will easily fit this bill.

Plant these crops just like you would in spring. But expect that with the soil now warm, they will germinate and begin growing much more quickly than they did when the ground was still chilly in spring.

Fall or Second Spring Harvest

Crops for autumn and early winter harvest are cool-weather crops; these are the same crops you planted early in spring for harvest before the weather turned warm and hot. Cool-weather crops love to get their start in warm soil and air, and they will yield best when they come to harvest as temperatures cool and winter approaches. Some people call the autumn harvest of cool weather crops “the second season.”

Many cool-season crops can withstand a light frost - the first frost in autumn; these include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, collards, lettuce, radishes, and spinach. And there are cool-weather crops that can easily withstand a heavy frost - usually the second or third frost in autumn or early winter; these include beets, cauliflower, chard, endive, kohlrabi, and peas.

When to plant autumn-harvest crops

When planting crops for autumn harvest, keep in mind that the number of minutes of daylight is growing shorter day-by-day. That means that the later you plant in summer or fall, the more days it may take for your crops to reach maturity. So when planning the late summer and fall vegetable garden, add several days to the number of days to maturity, factoring for the shortening days.

Here's a guide for the number of days from sowing to harvest for the most popular autumn harvest crops (these numbers may vary slightly by variety):

Beets - Count back 74 days: 5 days to germination + 55 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Direct sow beets in the garden. Can survive a heavy frost.

Broccoli - Count back 95 days: 5 days to germination + 21 days to transplant size +55 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Start broccoli indoors then transplant to the garden. Can withstand light but not heavy frost without protection.

Brussels sprouts - Count back 120 days: 5 days to germination + 21 days to transplant size + 80 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Start Brussels sprouts indoors then transplant to the garden. Can withstand light but not heavy frost without protection.

Cabbage - Count back 99 days: 4 days to germination + 21 days to transplant size + 60 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Start cabbage indoors then transplant to the garden. Can withstand light but not heavy frost without protection.

Carrots - Count back 85 days: 6 days to germination + 65 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Direct sow carrots. Can withstand light but not heavy frost without protection.

Cauliflower - Count back 90 days: 5 days to germination + 21 days to transplant size + 50 days to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Start cauliflower indoors then transplant to the garden. Can survive heavy frost.

Chard - Count back 69 days: 6 days to germination + 50 days to maturity +14 days factoring for short days. Direct seed chard. Can survive heavy frost.

Leaf Lettuce - Count back 76 days: 3 days to germination + 14 days to reach transplant size + 45 to maturity + 14 days factoring for short days. Start lettuce indoors for best results then transplant to the garden. Can survive a light frost but not heavy frost without protection.

Peas - Count back 70 days: 6 days to germination + 50 to maturity+ 14 days factoring for short days. Direct seed peas. Can survive heavy frost.

Spinach - Count back 64 days: 5 days to germination + 45 days to maturity+ 14 days factoring for short days. Direct seed spinach. Can withstand light frost but should be protected from heavy frost.

Steve Albert is the author of The Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide available at Amazon.com. He teaches in the landscape design program at the U.C. Berkeley Extension. He lives in Oakmont.

Email: author@kenwoodpress.com

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