Monday, August 10, 2009

Vegetable Garden, Round 2… the Fall Garden

Spots, rots and blights be damned… keep planting! That’s my advice to vegetable gardeners. We are about to enter Round Two of the gardening season and it can be very rewarding. I’m talking about the Fall garden. Sure, it’s still summer but by taking a few simple steps now you can be way head come September and October.

Rip out those blighted tomatoes, monster squash plants, ragged cukes and weedy patches. Then seed ‘em. I’m talking about beets, carrots, turnips (yes, turnips are tasty) lettuce and cilantro. Fall spinach is wonderful and September plantings will overwinter and provide spring crops. Transplant cool weather, cole crops (cabbage family).

The entire cabbage family thrives in the fall garden. Right now you can find six-packs of broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts (yes, Brussels sprouts are tasty) and cabbage in some garden centers. Get these transplants into the ground in mid-August and you’ll be enjoying nice harvests in late September and October. Many years the quality of the fall crops is better than spring.

Because fall air temperatures and day length are moderate and declining, the fall garden is very different that the spring version. Crop growth slows and quality holds very well. Weed growth slows and even stops in some cases, with the first frost. It’s a pleasure to work outside again without working up a sweat.

What to do with all of those dead and diseased plants? How about the wheelbarrow loads of weeds? Compost them! That’s right, compost them. Almost every composting book and manual warns against this. Nonsense! (most of the time). The vast majority of the diseases that affect our vegetable crops will not be spread, enhanced or aggravated by composting the affected foliage. Several reasons. First, the compost pile is a very vicious place. Good fungi destroy the bad. Even simple soil incorporation of dead plants works in your favor. There are a few exceptions but don’t sweat it. Compost that stuff.

Consider the farmers. Do they put diseased plants in the trash? Nope. They plow them down and rotate crop location. Sure, our rotation options in a small garden are limited. Makes composting diseased stuff a smart move. Finally, understand that our most common fungal, bacterial and viral pathogens survive in or near the garden naturally. Even if you tried extreme sanitation, you’ll be visited by the ancestors of 2009 powdery mildew, early blight and botrytis in 2010.

What about those weeds. Two potential problems… weed seeds and the fleshy storage organs of perennials. Yea, it would be nice to eliminate weed seeds but I’d be willing to bet that a lot of those weeds in your garden have already set and dropped a lot of seed. When you pull them up even more will shed. Are you going to pick them up? Didn’t think so. So what’s the dif if they go into the compost pile where they have less chance of survival? The perennials? I don’t know what planet those folks are from that talk about perennials surviving composting. Even a cold compost pile that is turned a few times will destroy perennial roots, rhizomes and stolons. So compost away! I think the warning about not composting weeds comes from the common experience of importing compost or manure from remote locations and discovering new weed species the next year. Yep, this bound to happen…. weed seeds. Some are annuals, some perennials. But the weeds we are pulling in our gardens this year have already taken up residence. Recycling them thru your compost does not make the situation worse. Compost ‘em!