South Texas Gardening with Bob Webster

Vegetable Garden(Fall)

As odd as it seems July is the time to start thinking about your fall vegetable garden. The month of July is the time to start planning and preparing the soil for the upcoming season.

Fall soil preparation is basically the same as for spring. Where you will be setting out individual plants (tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) put a cup each of fertilizer and greensand on the surface of the soil. For tomatoes you should also sprinkle about ¼ cup of Epsom salts over a 3` X 3` area around the fertilizer. Cover the fertilizer and greensand with a mound of good compost (we recommend Ladybug Revitalizer) and make a depression in the top of the mound so that you can moisten it regularly.  Where you will be planting row crops (beans, lettuce, radishes, etc.) place the fertilizer and greensand in a line and cover it with compost. Make a small depression down the center of the row, once again water every few days between now and planting time. Take great care in choosing your crops for your fall garden and begin planting at the appropriate time. This may be as early as July for tomatoes and as late as November for Spinach. Having the soil properly prepared will greatly increase your chances of the creating your best fall garden ever.

Then there is the issue of seed vs. transplant. Some plants such as tomatoes, peppers, the Cole family, (Broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage), onions, and eggplant are most often purchased as transplants although they can be started from seed if you get an early start. Other vegetables including leafy vegetables (lettuce, mustard, spinach) and beans, cucumbers, okra, squash, melons, etc. may be planted from seed or transplants. Seeds may be started indoors and then set out, or they can be sown directly into the soil at the appropriate time. Root vegetables (radishes, carrots, turnips, beets) are always direct seeded.

When you are selecting vegetables for your garden always strive for diversity. Some varieties perform better than others in a given year so planting several different varieties of a particular vegetable will guarantee a successful harvest. It is important to include as many heirloom varieties as possible in your garden because they offer exceptional taste, are usually hardier than hybrids, and they are unique and unusual in color and shape. Most heirloom vegetables, with the exception of tomatoes, are only available as seed.

By observing planting dates, you give your vegetables the maximum time to grow and produce. Check planting dates on the chart that follows .When planting from seed, thinning is very important. To grow and mature properly, each plant in your garden needs light, water, and nutrients. To receive these things plants must have room.  Without sufficient space plants will be stunted, will put on spindly growth, and the yield of produce will be low.

There is some regular maintenance which needs to be performed during the growing season. Spraying regularly with Liquid seaweed and molasses improves taste, nutritional content, insect resistance, and cold hardiness. Regular watering and fertilizing will keep your plants vigorous and productive. Vegetables which are grown organically will have few pests, however if you should have an outbreak there are natural controls for any problem. The use of pesticides should be limited so that valuable beneficial insect populations will remain healthy.

Here are some specific tips for individual vegetables.

Beans: There are many kinds of beans, but all can be categorized as either “bush” or “pole” varieties. Bush forms produce more quickly but there season is not as long. The first year that beans are planted in an area a seed inoculant should be used. Pick edible beans while they are young and tender and dried beans after the beans are fully formed.

Cole Family: (Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels s sprouts, and cabbage) observe planting distances and dates for best results. Leaves may be pulled over developing heads of cauliflower to prevent sunburn.

Cucumbers: There are bush and trailing forms. Trailing varieties do best with a fence or other support on which to climb. Good pollination is critical so avoid any pesticides which might diminish valuable bee populations.

Eggplant: Many varieties are available and may be purple or white in color. Eggplants are hot weather plants which should not be planted until the soil is warm. Regular watering is important to keep fruits from being to bitter.

Melons: These warm weather plants are usually planted in `hills` or `mounds` rather than rows. Good pollination and adequate moisture are important for good fruit development.

Okra: Plant after daytime temperatures have warmed significantly and treat seed with actinovate to reduce cotton root rot. Pick while the pods are tender.

Onions: Onions may be thinned as they reach ` green onion size`, and the rest left to reach mature size as summer progresses.

Peas (Southern): Southern peas such as blackeyes and chowder peas should be grown as you would beans.

Peas (winter): Planting dates are critical, and seed inoculant should be used the first year an area is planted. Edible pods should be picked while tender and before seeds develop and dry pods after peas are fully formed.

Peppers: Peppers do not grow well until hot weather arrives so they should not be set out to early. Hot peppers, banana peppers, and bell peppers grow extremely well in south Texas.

Potatoes: White, red, purple, or yellow potatoes are planted from sections with `eyes`. Potatoes should be dug as vines fade for tender skinned new potatoes. Leave the tubers in the ground for two weeks longer for thicker skinned spring potatoes which may be stored for longer periods.

Potatoes (Sweet): Sweet potatoes are started from `slips` (small rooted section of potato) mature potatoes can be harvested in summer or fall depending on the size desired.

Squash:  Both bush and trailing types thrive in our area of south Texas and should be planted in mounds. Good pollination and regular irrigation are critical for fruit development. Pick while fruit is tender.

Tomatoes: There are unlimited shapes, colors, sizes and flavors. `Determinate ` varieties form a medium size bush, while `indeterminate` tomatoes continue to grow into large vines. Both should be grown in sturdy cages for best results. Prevent blossom end rot with periodic application of Epsom salts and keep fruit from splitting by watering only when necessary.

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