Prepare Now for the Fall/Winter Vegetable Harvest by Keith C. Hansen (2023)

All this heat reminds me of a line from an old country song: "It's too hot to fish and too hot to golf." Unfortunately, for those of us who garden in Texas during the fall and winter, it doesn't get too hot. I spent a very hot and sweaty eight hours in the garden this past weekend getting ready for fall and winter. If you haven't started your garden yet, you're a little behind schedule. My friend Kieth Hansen recently retired from his position as a horticultural consultant in the Tyler area. While reading something last week I came across an article you wrote a while ago that works as well as any I've seen to help you prepare for your fall and winter harvests now . I was so impressed with the article that I asked if I could repost it here. Kieth is a well-known gardener and well-known writer. Once you have read this you will surely want to skip to your website,East Texas Gardening Blog, and look at it.

Prepare Now for the Fall/Winter Vegetable Harvest by Keith C. Hansen

Mid-July means two things: the heat of summer and the orchards of autumn. Everyone can empathize with dog days - it's hot and muggy, so it's only good for dogs to find a cool place to dig.

But autumn gardens? In July? That's how it is! Midsummer is the time to start preparing and planting the garden for a fall harvest.

The first key to a successful fall garden is pulling weeds. And when there's Bermuda or Bahia grass among those weeds, you can't just turn everything underneath because once you start watering and fertilizing again, you'll have the greenest lawn in town.

Solarization is a method of reducing weeds and other pests by using the sun's energy to pasteurize the topsoil. However, this takes time. Prepare the soil, remove garden debris and weeds, form your beds, and then water the soil well. Cover the prepared area with clear polyethylene and seal the edges with soil to trap heat from the sun. This doesn't sterilize the soil, but it does reduce populations of harmful nematodes, weeds, and other pests. It's important that you do this in July and August, the hottest time of the year. Treat at least 6 to 8 weeks. You can't plant tomatoes or peppers, but the garden will be ready in time for planting cool-season vegetables.

Another non-chemical method of weed killing is to smother them with 6 to 8 layers of damp newspaper and then cover that layer with pine needles, old hay, or grass clippings. Any time weeds like bermuda grass show up through the edges, place another layer of paper on top. By constantly denying them light, they eventually weaken and die. Transplant through the papers or just use them in the paths. Most of the newspaper will appear next spring.

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Hand digging is another option for really small plots, but be careful not to get heat stroke; work early in the morning before it gets too hot.

If the garden location has perennial weeds like Bermuda weeds, you can spray the weeds in an empty garden with a herbicide containing glyphosate. Some brands of glyphosate are: Roundup, Kleenup and Weed Away. Check the ingredients label for the term 'glyphosate' and follow the label directions for the dosing amount. Glyphosate does not remain in the soil; It's purely a foliar herbicide, but it kills the roots and all. It takes about 2 weeks to completely kill Bermuda, maybe a little longer if the weed is under drought stress. It works best when the weeds are healthy, actively growing and not suffering from a lack of water. Remember that the garden space must be empty to use glyphosate! Read label fully before use.

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Although not as effective as Round Up, concentrated acetic acid is a good organic herbicide effective on both herbaceous and broadleaf weeds.

There are also organic herbicides formulated with oils and soaps that will kill many tender annual weeds but will not kill Bermuda and other perennial weeds with a single application.

For future weed control, always keep some type of mulch on the soil surface after preparing your garden to prevent weeds from gaining the upper hand again.

Any time you prepare the soil to plant a new plant, always mix in as much compost as you can get your hands on. Add well-rotted animal manure, fertilizer, and lime when soil tests indicate low fertility or pH, and incorporate all ingredients into the soil.

Compost helps sandy soil retain moisture and drains clay soil. It also provides the plants with finished nutrients slowly and steadily.

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Southern peas such as black-eyed, purple shell, cream and snow peas are an excellent edible summer cover crop for building soil and providing food. Pea vines can be mowed and rotated while still green for additional soil-forming benefits, or produce peas and then tilled.

Tomatoes and peppers should be planted early, by August 1st, if they are to have a good harvest before the first frost. What if your garden space is not ready yet? Buy your grafts now and grow them in a larger container for later planting in the garden.

***** Check out our planting guidelines in the sidebar to see when to dig up your favorite vegetable seeds and plants.

Get 6 pack grafts or 4 inch grafts. Place them in a 1 or 3 gallon nursery container filled with potting soil. Do not use soil from your garden. Add slow-release fertilizer (like Osmocote or another slow-release formulation) to the soil mix. Place the pots in a sunny spot in the garden, not in the shade!

When watering the seedlings, use a water-soluble fertilizer or compost tea.

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Use a water-soluble fertilizer solution instead of just water every time you water. Your grafts will continue to grow and be healthy as if you planted them straight into the ground. Once your garden plot is complete, you need to plant large, healthy tomato and pepper plants. They are easier to care for and you can be sure of a bountiful harvest before the first winter frost.

Grow fast-ripening tomato varieties for fall harvest. Look for varieties that mature in under 75 days, such as Merced, Bingo, Celebrity, Whirlaway, and Carnival. 'Surefire' is a smaller processed tomato variety (with thicker skin) that sets and ripens all of its tomatoes very quickly, giving you a 'foolproof' harvest that will last well beyond the first frost. Most cherry tomatoes will produce within 65 days of transplanting.

Timing is very important to a successful fall garden. Heat tolerant/cold sensitive plants should be planted in time to mature before cold weather subsides and stunts growth, while cool/heat sensitive plants should be planted late enough to avoid heat but still early enough to withstand the first frosts Winter.

Vegetables containing seeds can be difficult to harvest in the summer heat. The soil often forms a crust on the surface after tillage and irrigation. This "crust" can prevent young seedlings from breaking through. Here are a few tips to help seedlings grow in the summer.

Drill a furrow in the row as you normally would to sow the seeds. Before sowing, take your garden hose and thoroughly soak the bottom of the seed furrow with water. Next, sow the seed. Finally, cover the seed with dry, firm soil to the proper depth. The seed should remain moist enough until germination, and if you avoid overhead watering, the soil will not form a crust that will prevent seedlings from emerging.

Other people place a wet board or burlap over the seed row to provide constant moisture to encourage germination and emergence. You should check every day for signs of an emergency and remove the cover when you see the first seedlings opening.

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I split my postsDer Homestead Simple Hop-Blog. Be sure to stop by and check out all the amazing things these gardeners and farmers are doing!


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