As the Virginia Beach Master Gardener’s celebrate a Virtual Garden Festival, we’re hoping to inspire great gardening this October. That said, many of you may think it’s too late to get a fall vegetable garden! Not so! Let’s get planting!
Temperatures in October in the area finally hit the 70/50 degree mark – the preferred temperatures for fall crops.
Soil as always determines the health and production of the crops. If possible, boost the soil with compost before planting. Seeds will get off to a good start with the cooler soil temperatures. They can be soaked overnight before planting to get the process started. Plants clearly are an option, and for the bigger brassicas (cabbage/broccoli/collards, etc), by October it’s the best way to go.
There are lots of easy fall crops that will give an abundance of food through the season. Start with lettuce - whichever type chosen, pick the outside leaves every 3-5 days, and the plant will continue to grow until the first deep frost. While the plants may continue afterwards, sometimes the taste becomes bitter.
Asian Greens such as bok choy, tatsoi and mizuna (a Japanese mustard) will add a delicious taste and crunch to salads, as well as being cooked in stir fries. Warm spring weather will make them bolt – or flower. That’s ok – they’ll be the first pollinators of spring.
Collards, kales, swiss chard, mustards and spinach will also do well. The outside leaves can be snipped off. Spinach prefers short days of winter and will revitalize in spring for picking if they don’t get big enough in the fall.
Root crops may be smaller as a fall crop than during a spring planting. Radishes, beets, turnips love the cool temperatures, and the greens of the beets and turnips when young can be used in salads or cooked too, making them a “2fer” crop! Try a Hakurei turnip - a Japanese turnip that is great roasted!
Onions, leeks and garlic will grow through the season for picking in the spring. To get the “white” of the leeks, mound the soil around the base as they get taller to about 8 inches and this will create the pale end.
Don’t forget herbs such as the annuals - cilantro, dill, parsley, sorrel and chervil, as well as the perennials – rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano – the last two do really well in pots.
Without a doubt, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and cabbages are a great addition to a fall garden. Brussel sprouts are a biennial, so they need a 2 year growing season for production.
The challenge with the bigger brassica crops – broccoli/cauliflower and cabbage is the cabbage moth, both brown and white, that lays its eggs on all the brassicas. It’s the last pest of fall and the first in the spring as it can overwinter. Diligent removal of the worms is necessary. The bok choi, collards, kales and mustards are susceptible too, but it’s easier to see the tiny holes and remove the worm before they do too much damage. There are some chemical ways to deal with it, but the best method is physical removal. If you choose to use a spray, remember, in Virginia, the Label is the Law – read the label cover to cover to understand what you are using, how to use it, and how long it will remain on the crop before it can be eaten.
In a nutshell then, these are the crops that will do best in a fall garden. Both the gardener and the crops prefer the lower temperatures, the pests are a minimum and recede by first frost, and the maintenance is low. Enjoy the relaxed gardening, and Mother Nature will let you know when it’s time to take a break!