Planning and planting a fall vegetable garden
Do you have leftover seeds from your spring planting? In an Oklahoma vegetable garden, fall is often a better and longer season than spring. Days grow shorter, and nights are cooler giving plants a respite from the heat.
Depending upon where you live in Oklahoma, you may need to start your fall vegetable garden in late summer. I always consult Oklahoma State University’s fall gardening guide before I plant. This PDF file gives tips along with planting times. To get a copy, simply search the title online. You can also sometimes pick up these fact sheets at your local nursery.
There are two stages to the fall vegetable garden: those warm weather veggies you plant and harvest before frost, and those you grow for cooler days in October and November.
In September, start thinking about the cool-weather crops to grow either before our average first freeze date of November 5—although it can be early in October—or afterward with row covers and cold frames. Row covers protect plants when temperatures fall into the low 20s.
My favorite plants for the fall vegetable garden are ones I find more troublesome in spring. Spinach, which bolts at the slightest provocation, is a great fall crop. With cover, you can even harvest throughout winter. If you’re going to overwinter your crops outside, get them going before days grow too short. Once the sun shines less than six to eight hours, plants hold themselves in stasis until warmth and sunlight return. However, you can still harvest throughout the winter months. I like to grow lettuces, radishes, kale—another super hardy crop—Swiss chard, mustard greens, turnips, broccoli raab—which I find easier to grow than traditional broccoli—onions, leeks, garlic and carrots. Last year, I also overwintered parsnips in my cold frames with limited success harvesting small ones in spring.
According to OSU, lettuce seeds or plants should be planted between August 1 and 15, but I’ve noticed it’s often too hot this early for germination. So, I start lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens indoors under lights in August. Once the weather is cooler at the end of August, I transplant them outside. You can also buy transplants from local nurseries and box stores.
With leafy greens, especially lettuce, optimally, you want daytime temperatures in the 60s. Another great way to make lettuce think it’s growing in a cooler climate is to plant it in the shade of another plant or grow it beneath shade cloth. Use a thick mulch of shredded leaves as your outdoor planting medium. Leaves retain moisture helping seeds germinate and keeping soil cooler. This fools lettuce into thinking it’s fall, and by the time plants are larger, fall has arrived.
Even if you didn’t start seeds in August, September is a good time to get things going. You will probably need low row tunnels or a cold frame to see your plants through to the finish line. There’s still time to grow leafy greens, carrots, turnips, and members of the allium family. Onions and garlic will overwinter for harvest next spring—June for garlic. Fall is a great time to grow. Imagine how great those greens will taste in November, December and January.
Let’s get growing.