Since spring, the news has been filled with stories about people deciding to grow their own food this year. And spring is the traditional time to start a vegetable garden. But it's not the only time.
If you live in Florida or places with similar climates, fall is a better time to plant. But no matter where you live -- except extremes such as Alaska -- you can harvest at least a few vegetables before cold weather. Here's how:
1. Choose a spot in full sun and near a source of water. (You'll need to water occasionally.)
2. Start with the soil. If you've never grown anything in this place before, dig up the soil and send off a sample to be tested. (Your local Extension Service office will give you details.) A report will be returned to you with recommendations for fertilizer and possible liming.
3. Amend the soil with organic matter, mixing them together well. Rake smooth.
4. Decide what you can grow. At this point in the summer, this will be determined by two things: First is the number of days it takes for a particular veggie to mature. Learn this by checking the backs of seed packets, reading online catalogs, or asking at a local nursery.
The second determining factor in what you can grow late in the season is your climate, specifically, how many days before the first fall frost in your area. (Again, the Extension Service or a local nursery will be able to tell you when your average first frost is.)
Being conservative, you can probably count on about 90 days in most areas. So what can you grow that you can harvest in 90 days or less? More than you'd expect:
Bush beans, some varieties of broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, leaf lettuce, radishes, turnips, and greens such as chard, collards, mustard, and spinach. These greens like cold weather, which is an advantage because they won't slow down as autumn weather turns chilly.
Some plants are grown from seeds sown directly in the garden -- beans, corn, cucumbers, lettuce, radishes, carrots, peas, and melons, for instance.
Others can be started from seed but most gardeners purchase them as bedding plants -- broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are examples.
So you may be limited by what seeds you can find and what plants are available at local outlets.
5. Fertilize when planting. And again each month afterward.
6. Spread a two-to-three-inch layer of weed-free straw, hay, or other organic material as mulch in the rows and around the plants to suppress weeds and help retain moisture in the soil.
7. Keep the garden watered. Vegetables will need an inch of water a week, from rainfall or from you. Apply it at soil level, not via a sprinker (which loses too much water to evaporation and can sometimes lead to funus problems.)
8. Watch out for insects. Find out about organic controls that are effective and use them. Keep four-legged pests at bay with fences and other devices.
9. Remove weeds as necessary.
10. Harvest and enjoy!