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COLUMN: Fall: The third gardening season

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By Bryce Roberts

Late summer and fall offer a third growing season for the home gardener, though both new and experienced gardeners often overlook the opportunity to extend the bounty of the home garden. Spring gardening is marked by relief that winter is over, with the anticipation of warmer weather. Summer gardening brings its own joys, with longer days and the natural cycle of rain and sun that helps plants yield ripe, delicious fruits and vegetables. But with some planning, fall can provide just as much enjoyment as spring and summer, and you can extend the harvest well into the cooler months.
One of the benefits of continuing with a fall garden is that you have already worked and prepared the planting site and soil, so the hard part of preparing for planting normally done in the spring is over. The ground has been worked, weeds are under control, and fertilizer and mulch are already distributed. You may need to add a bit more nitrogen for later plantings of vegetables, but otherwise everything is in place, and you are working in a rhythm.  
Fall vegetables are harvested in early September. The first leg of your fall garden can be part of your summer succession gardening plan. Succession gardening staggers the ripening date and harvest so you have a steady flow of fresh food, rather than an overwhelming flood of vegetables that sometimes go to waste. Good options for a late succession planting include an early-maturing variety of sweet corn and bush beans. The second leg of the fall crop consists of cool-season crops that grow well during cool fall days and withstand frost, such as turnips and parsnips.
Keep in mind that although days continue to be warm, nights are cool, which slows growth and maturation. When buying seed for fall planting, remember to check the average days to maturity. Select varieties with shorter maturation periods. Because we have warm days and cool nights during a typical Kentucky autumn, some vegetables, such as sweet corn and cole crops, thrive, developing excellent levels of sugar and crispness.   
The fall garden can include:
•    Root vegetables: beets, carrots, rutabaga, parsnips, turnips
•    Tender lettuces: bibb, endive, leaf lettuce
•    Hearty greens: collards, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and turnip greens
•    Cole crops: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage
•    Other vegetables: bush-type green beans, snow peas, sweet corn, kohlrabi  
Gardeners who want a lengthy harvest can use polyethylene row covers in the fall to extend the harvest of frost-sensitive crops such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. The row cover traps heat and protects the plant from killing frosts but beware that on warm, sunny days the row cover must be ventilated to protect plants from excess heat. Some plants, such as herbs, can be planted in containers and brought inside or moved to a protected area when there are hard frosts. You can use cold frames in much the same way, with the cover propped open during the day so the plants receive light, and closed at night. Using any combination of these methods can extend your gardening season by several weeks, well into the fall.
For more information, review “Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky,” http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id128/id128.pdf or contact our office for a copy.    
    Feel free to contact me at your Spencer County Cooperative Extension Service at 477-2217 or you can email me at broberts@uky.edu.  You can visit the Spencer County Extension Services’ website at www.spencerextension.com.
    Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.