While it may be hot and steamy outside right now, for vegetable gardeners, fall is just around the corner. Whether you already have a vegetable garden or want one, now is the time to plan for fall. Here are some helpful tips for Houston area gardeners.
Easy Tips for a Successful Fall Vegetable Garden
1Location is key. Choose an area that receives a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. The more the better. Vegetables grow best in full sun. Plan your location to receive as much light as possible from a southern exposure. The angle of the sun in winter limits the amount of light available. Areas close to the north side of your home may receive no sunlight in winter. Take the height of your vegetables into consideration. Taller ones behind the shorter ones, so each will receive as much light as possible. Leafy greens and root crops can tolerate a little more shade.
2 Use raised beds. Dr. Bob Randall who was the founding executive director of Urban Harvest, has been gardening in Houston for 30 years. He says raised beds are definitely the way to go. Whether you choose containers, or build a frame box from wood or stone, elevating the growing area gives you control over drainage and soil composition.
3Good soil. In an urban setting, your existing soil may be contaminated with toxic substances used years before. In my own garden, I built raised beds for growing food because my soil has poor drainage (gumbo clay soil) and the home is 40 years old. Who knows what is lurking in the soil from the 70’s? Start with good soil. The ideal soil is an organic sandy loam with a pH of about 6.5. If you are using containers, choose a well draining organic potting mix. For raised beds, buy a good garden mix amended with compost and organic fertilizer. Top off with a good quality native mulch, compost or alfalfa hay. Avoid mulches that contain mostly wood and bark. A good native mulch is made from small tree branches, leaves and buds. That is where most of the nutrients are stored. The longer the mulch has been aged (composted), the better.
4 Plant at the right time. Horticulturist and Permaculture designer, Diana Liga, says “the most important thing for a successful fall vegetable garden is timing. The key to success is planting recommended varieties at the appropriate time.” The best reference available is Dr. Bob Randall’s book, Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston. You’ll find it a handy reference on what varieties do best here and when to plant them. You can pick up a copy of Dr. Randall’s book inside the Bungalow at Buchanan’s.
5 Prep your beds. Each season you’ll need to replenish nutrients in your soil. As plants grow, they break down and use the organic matter from the soil. It is important to remember to feed the microbes in your soil by adding compost. A healthy soil will in turn feed your plants. Since most vegetables are heavy feeders, adding a top dressing of organic fertilizer is recommended. I’ve had excellent results with MicroLife™ 6-2-4. It doesn’t burn your seedlings and it is easy to apply.
6 Keep soils hydrated even between plantings. Diana Liga points out, “Dry soils lead to poor microbial activity. Since we want to encourage beneficial microbes in organic gardening we need to work on revitalizing our soils a few weeks before planting time. Watering the beds regularly until planting will also make a significant difference with germination.”
7 Rotation. Avoid planting the same family of vegetables in the same spot over and over. Each year move them around to promote a healthy soil and outsmart pests and nematodes. It is best to have at least three or four raised beds or containers and to rotate plant families each season such as Legumes, Cabbage, Tomatoes, Squash, Onions, etc. Dr. Randall’s book has plan for both four and eight bed rotations.
What to Plant for Fall?
What you plant in your fall vegetable garden depends on several factors. For metro Houston, fall tomatoes should be planted between July 15-31 and provided with shade from the afternoon sun until established. Choose fall vegetables that prefer cooler temperatures and shorter days like broccoli, cauliflower, peas, beets, kale, onions, garlic, lettuce, spinach, peppers, collards, Swiss chard, etc. Be sure to plant these at the correct times. Fall planting begins in July with tomatoes but many other vegetables must wait for cooler weather to arrive. Check the Monthly Vegetable Planting Calender in Dr. Randall’s book.
Need help with your vegetable garden? Come in and talk with our knowledgeable staff about it. Buchanan’s has everything you need to create a successful fall garden. Bon Appetit!