Roots and Shoots: ’Tis the Season for … Root Vegetables

Still time for one more planting

By Pamela Doan

As we come up on Labor Day, you might have noticed that the garden harvest has peaked. However, if you’re up for another round of planting, there are a few ways to keep the flow of produce to the table.

Consider the plants that are finishing their run as making space for other vegetables. While another round of tomatoes won’t make it, cooler season vegetables will do fine. These are many of the same choices that can be planted early in the spring, but this is a reverse. Instead of going into cool soil that will be warming, they go into warm soil that will grow steadily cooler.

Be aware of the angle of the sun when you’re planting now. It’s lower in the sky as we go into fall, and there may be different shadows that affect how much sunlight plants get now.

Another way to extend the growing season is to use row covers or hoop beds. Row covers are a fabric that allows the sun’s rays to come through but trap heat, keeping the soil warmer for longer. They’re placed right on top of plants.

Now that the summer harvest is peaking, it's time to consider what you'll be eating this fall. (Photo by P. Doan) 

Now that the summer harvest is peaking, it’s time to consider what you’ll be eating this fall. (Photo by P. Doan)

Hoop beds function similarly but are raised higher off the plants and have a different structure. They can be arranged with or without raised beds. A half circle of tubing holds a cloth structure over the plants. Raised beds can potentially keep soil warmer for even longer when covered by either method.

To make sure you can harvest, timing is important. The frost date for our area is mid-October, and barring any major weather events, these possibilities should all be fine well into early November. Check seed packets for germination times and choose faster growing plants. For even faster production, use transplants.

The following can be planted without using anything else to keep the ground warm or protected from frost. Each of these will survive a light frost and most can survive temperatures that dip into the 20s overnight: Beets, cabbage, collard greens, Asian greens, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce (baby greens and head), radish (round and daikon), spinach, Swiss chard and turnips.

With something to extend the growing season like row covers or hoop beds, you could plant varieties of these that have short germination and fewer days to harvest: Carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, onions and rutabaga.

Since your soil was probably depleted of nutrients by the summer growing season, add in compost, too.

Alternatively, cover crops can be planted now. These are plants that fix nutrients in the soil, break up compaction, take up space where weeds would grow and can be left over the winter to hold soil and prevent erosion. Rye, oats or wheat can all be planted in September and worked into the soil in spring.

For small vegetable gardens, oats would be a good choice. They establish quickly in the fall and die off in winter. The mulch left behind covers the soil, suppressing weeds in early spring, which can be worked into the soil as compost. One advantage is that they completely die off and won’t compete with other plants in the spring. Rye can be problematic in affecting crops in the spring.

Fall mustard could also be planted but it needs to be done quickly to settle in before colder temperatures. With this one, be sure not to let it go to seed or else it will be popping up in the spring. Mustard adds organic matter to soil and can reduce pests that winter through a chemical it releases. It can interfere with crop rotation, however.

It’s part of the Brassica family and that would mean you shouldn’t plant other plants from that family in the same location the following year. That would include kale, cauliflower, and broccoli, among others. On a small scale, I’m not sure how much it would impact a harvest, but try to avoid it.

One last reason to plant a crop of veggies now — flavor! Cooler weather brings out a sweeter taste. And who knows what the fall will bring; if these hot days continue, we might be gardening in December.

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