A fall garden? It may not be too late.

Fall is a wonderful time to enjoy fresh vegetables.

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    If you didn’t join the “grow your own” vegetables craze this spring, you may have time to do it now.
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If you didn’t join the “grow your own” vegetables craze this spring, it’s not too late to join in if you live in USDA Zone 7 or warmer. You can produce a bounty of fresh veggies from plot or pot to plate this fall, plus you’ll save a bundle by growing them yourself.

You may be surprised to find that with just a little attention and effort, growing fall vegetables in the backyard garden and in planters is even more enjoyable than planting a vegetable garden during the spring and summer seasons.

Why? It's simple: Cooler autumn temperatures make it a delight to spend time outside in the garden and also provide an advantage when it's time to harvest your fall crops.

You'll spend less time caring for your fall crops because of the favorable cool weather growing conditions. Plants will grow rapidly at first and gradually slow as the days become shorter and colder. Destructive insects won't be as numerous in autumn as they are in summer months. Weeds germinate less frequently and grow slower than they do during the warmer growing seasons.

Compared to hot and dry summers, fall usually brings an increase in the amount of precipitation, eliminating another time-consuming chore – watering.

What you’ll need to know

1. Let the sunshine in.  Most vegetables need full sun – at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. They also require a steady supply of moisture and nutrients from the soil. You can help ensure your plants get both by mixing a 2-inch layer of compost into the soil (bagged compost is available at garden centers). Or spread a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, according to label instructions. Plants will need an inch of moisture per week, either through rain or supplemental watering.

2. Start with transplants. Transplants buy you lots of time. Plants are six weeks or older when you put them into the ground, so you will begin harvesting much sooner than if you start from seed. Transplants in biodegradable, environmentally friendly pots make planting easy and sparing the use of much plastic. Just cut off the bottom of the pot, water, and plant pot and all. Garden centers typically supply optimum fall varieties for your geographic region.

3. Don’t fear frost. When frost threatens, cover plants with floating row cover, cold frame, or a cloche. Or, you can grow fall veggies in a container and move the pot to a protected location on frosty nights.

Essential, preliminary planning tips for fall vegetable gardens include:

* Before planting any new plant, make sure that you clear the area of summer and spring crops planted previously, as they may decay and encourage bacterial infection.

*Spread a few inches of mulch or compost over the area. Make sure that you turn up soil’s top layer and water well. Allow the soil to rest for a day before planting new fall plants.

*During fall season most areas experiences rain and even frost so make sure that your soil is well drained and doesn’t get soggy.

Best Suited Vegetables for fall vegetable gardens

After following the essential preliminary steps, it’s time to select vegetables.

Here’s a list of fast growing, cold-hardy crops that are ideal for fall vegetable gardening:

Winterbor kale – This nutritious leafy green is a vigorous producer that endures winter easily, even in very cold climates. Cut the outer leaves so that the center can continue growing. Space transplants about 12 inches apart

Georgia collards - Another leafy green similar to kale, collards offer a larger, stronger, sweet cabbage-like flavor. Leaves taste best when young.  Space transplants 36 inches apart.

Romaine lettuce - Rich in fiber and vitamin C, romaine is an especially good vegetable for fall. Space transplants 18 inches apart.

Early Dividend broccoli - Popular, productive, and easy to grow, this broccoli is high in fiber and calcium. Set transplants 18 inches apart

Mustard greens – Offering spicy hot leaves, this is a very fast-growing, nutritious vegetable. Mustard greens always taste sweeter when nipped by frost. Space plants 12 inches apart

Bonnie hybrid cabbage – Grows large, round, blue-green heads.

Arugula – This fast-growing leafy green is great for salads or gourmet recipes. It's peppery-tasting and low in calories.

If you put these practices into place early this fall, you'll get your garden off to the right start and set it up for a fruitful season. Preparation is key, but the reward is a healthier, more productive garden — and fresh food that tastes better than anything you can buy at the store.

To learn more about vegetable and herb varieties as well as gardening tips, visit www.bonnieplants.com

Editor’s note: For more on gardening, see the Monitor’s main gardening page, which offers articles on many gardening topics. Also, check out our blog archive and our RSS feed. You may want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our next contest. We’ll be looking for photographs of fruits. So find your best shots of summer’s blueberries, peaches, plums, etc., and get out your camera to take some stunning shots of early fall apples. Post them before Sept. 30, 2009, and you could be the next winner.

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