Schedule Your Fall Crops Now for Longer Harvests
Commercial growers know that vegetable-growing success lies in growing and harvesting throughout three and even four seasons. In this issue of the JSS Advantage, we'll suggest proven techniques and appropriate tools to help you extend your season and increase your profits this fall and winter.
Mid-Summer is the Time for Fall Planting in the North with Cool-Weather Crops
In most of the United States, mid-summer is the time to schedule fall crops, including those you will harvest this fall and winter and those you will plant in fall for early spring harvest.
The best crops for fall are those that are not only cold-tolerant, but also taste better when they mature in cooler weather. Those include: beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery/celeriac, collards, chicories, fennel, greens, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsnips, peas, radish, rutabaga, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnips.
Johnny's Fall Planting Calculator gives you a quick way to determine when to plant. Download the calculator, and change the fall frost date at the top of the second column to your own fall frost date. The calculator instantly shows when you should plant each crop outside. (Note that some varieties should be direct sown on that date, while others should be transplanted outside on that date, which requires you to start them 2-3 weeks earlier inside.)
The Fall Planting Calculator assumes that you are going to be planting outside with no frost protection, so most of the planting dates are going to be in mid-summer. However, if you plan to use frost protection such as row cover over your crops in the field, you can push back the planting date a week or two. If you will be planting in a hoophouse or low tunnel, you can plant 4-5 weeks after the recommended date. For the longest possible harvest, plant some fall crops outside and some in protected structures including hoophouses and low tunnels.
Fall Planting in the South: Take Advantage of Mild Climates
For those who grow vegetables in mild winter climates, July through September is the best time to plant warm-weather vegetables including beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, summer squash, and tomatoes. Herbs such as basil, cilantro, and dill are also good choices for fall production. Pumpkins and watermelons can be planted beginning in August in north Florida and into September further south. Johnny's has a full selection of varieties suitable for fall production in the South. To ensure availability, order early.
Extend Your Growing Season with Protected Cultivation Methods
July is a good time to start planning for season extension, whether that means buying a new hoophouse or replacing worn-out row cover and frost fabric. Here are some ideas that can help you make fall and winter as profitable and productive as summer.
If you can provide shade and moisture, you can get many cool-weather crops started in the heat of summer. Beets, carrots, chard, lettuce, onions, radishes, and turnips will actually germinate at soil temperatures of 85-95F (30º-35ºC), though they prefer it about 10º cooler. Escarole, endive, kale and kohlrabi won't germinate above 80ºF (27ºC), and spinach won't germinate above 75ºF (24ºC). To lower soil temperature, consider erecting hoops covered with shade cloth. Johnny's sells a knitted shade cloth that provides good ventilation when held above crops on Quick Hoops™. Sizes are available to perfectly fit Quick Hoops™ low tunnels or high tunnels. Soil should be watered thoroughly after putting on the shade cloth and before planting to give the soil a few days to cool off. Fall crops need ample moisture to get them started in summer; use drip irrigation and turn it on every day to keep the top few inches of soil moist.
Be prepared for unexpected frosts as the weather cools. Johnny's row covers are available in a number of weights and sizes to provide exactly the protection you need on fall crops. A wide piece of heavy row cover can be pulled over multiple beds quickly when a heavy frost threatens. Row covers also can be used on hoops to create a protected microclimate all fall. The Quick Hoops™ bender makes perfect hoops from locally available electrical conduit, and Snap Clamps make it easy to attach row cover or poly for tight, stable low tunnels. Hoop Loops are pre-formed wire hoops with loops that allow you to secure twine down the length of the bed. When covered with row cover, the hoops and twine create a mini-greenhouse that prevents the covering from abrading plants.
In September, plant in the hoophouse. You have plenty of time to get one or more crops of beets, broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, endive and escarole, greens, kale and collards, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Plant growth will slow as the days get shorter, but the cooler weather of fall will keep crops healthy. Plant enough that you can harvest for many weeks.
Carrots can be planted for harvest all winter, in a hoophouse or low tunnel. Carrots will grow to maturity in fall but can be left in the ground to harvest as needed and they will get sweeter and more flavorful from in-ground storage. Spinach will continue to grow most of the winter, so young leaves can be picked repeatedly.
Plant a crop of overwintering spinach in low tunnels covered with row cover in fall and poly in winter. Seed spinach before the first frost and the plants will reach 3-4 inches in diameter before winter cold stops their growth. They will resume growth in late winter and be a month earlier than spring-sown spinach.
Invest in a High-quality Tool to Make Your Job Easier
If you are considering reinvesting in your farm this fall, Johnny's tools are a good place to put your money. They are made of the highest quality materials to be durable under constant commercial use. Field-tested and used on Johnny's research farm, they have been designed and redesigned to be the most comfortable, adaptable hand tools available anywhere. Eliot Coleman, the market farming expert, designed several tools sold exclusively by Johnny's, including the long-handled Wire Weeder for precision weeding in tight spaces with the least possible soil disturbance. Coleman also designed our Collinear Hoes, which have a thin, sharp blade that runs parallel to the soil surface, thus allowing the user to stand up straight, reducing back strain while weeding.
Most of Johnny's hand tools are manufactured in Switzerland and assembled in the U.S. with oiled ash handles made in New England. These tools are backed by Johnny's 100% satisfaction, guarantee. In many cases, replacement parts and sharpeners are available for them.