Monday, February 19, 2018

Reeves: Growing a fall garden

By Randy Reeves
Aug. 13, 2017 at 4 a.m.

So you want to grow garden fresh vegetables this fall. Where do you start? Simply looking at seed packets in catalogs or local nurseries will not get the job done. One must garden smartly if economical production and utilization are expected.

Once the decision to have a fall garden has been reached, a gardener must take action. One must pull out some of those plants that have been nurtured from "babies" in the spring to monsters now. This takes courage and faith. It is recommend that all plants — weeds included — be removed, except okra, cherry tomatoes and pole beans if the foliage is healthy.

Then, determine where to put the garden. The major consideration for garden placement is sunlight. All vegetables require some sunlight; the most popular vegetables require full sun. "Full" sun means at least eight hours of intense, direct exposure. If such exposure is not received by crops, such as tomatoes, peppers and squash, the plants grow spindly, have weak stems, drop blooms and are generally nonproductive. Shade in the afternoon (after 3 p.m.) is wonderful; shade in the morning is acceptable.

Some gardeners believe shading is beneficial, but remember that commercial vegetable producers never shade crops. Use shade-tolerant crops for planting between larger growing vegetables such as tomatoes. During the early establishment period of a crop, such as tomatoes, leave several feet of vacant space between transplants in which short, fast-maturing, shade-tolerant vegetables can be produced.

If a new garden site has been selected and it was previously covered with grass, this turf must be removed. New garden areas are doomed before they begin if all bermuda and other lawn grass is not completely removed before tillage begins. If a raised garden is being considered, sod should be removed before additional soil is put into the prepared frame.

What about chemicals that might be applied to the grass to kill it rather than pulling it out? There are several brands that contain the weed and grass killer glyphosate. These include Roundup and Kleenup — check ingredients on label for the term "glyphosate" and follow label instructions for application rate.

Once the sod has been removed, the garden area should be shoveled to a depth of 10-12 inches. Rototillers, when used in a new garden area, will not penetrate adequately. Rototillers can be used to loosen and mix shoveled areas. Apply 1 to 2 inches of coarse (sharp), washed sand and 2 to 3 inches of organic matter to the garden site surface and incorporate to improve the soil's physical quality. The soil's physical condition will have to be altered over a period of time rather than trying to develop desirable soil in a season or two. If you are making the effort to build a raised bed garden don't skimp on the soil which you put into it.

When growing tomatoes and peppers, it is easier to use transplants. As hot and dry as the weather has been, some people think that transplanting is risky. Transplants will survive hot temperatures and full sun if adequate moisture is available to the plant. Transplants in peat pots or cell packs with restricted root zones require at least two weeks to sufficiently enlarge their root systems so that active growth can begin. Until that time, gardeners must provide adequate, daily moisture or the transplants will either die or stunt to the point that fruit maturity will be delayed.

Daily moisture should be provided on an individual basis to transplants. Depressions or basins around each transplant can be filled daily, or as needed depending on the soil type, with water to provide the necessary wetting or a drip irrigation system can be installed.

A transplant with a larger root system that can be easily watered will be helpful. Such a large root system will spread faster, have access to more water and will support an older plant which has the potential of producing more fruit, sooner. Fall-recommended tomato varieties, such as Bingo, Merced and Celebrity, can be purchased in a large transplant form with larger root systems in mid to late August. You can also purchase smaller, peat pot or cell pack transplants and grow larger transplants yourself.

As far as tomatoes in the fall, Surefire, Heatwave, Bingo, Merced and Whirlaway are the best, highest quality varieties available but they are also the highest maintenance. For those who don't want to take the challenge of growing the above mentioned high maintenance varieties, Carnival and Celebrity, are recommended. The main advantage of growing Bingo, Merced or Whirlaway in the fall is their firmness of fruit and ability to develop a deep red color if harvested green to avoid freeze damage. Surefire and Heatwave are the only tomato varieties which will set flowers and fruit during the heat of September and are thus the earliest maturing tomatoes of a fall planting.

— Randy Reeves is a Texas A&M Agri-Life extension agent for Gregg County. Join him on his horticultural blog site with the Longview News-Journal, "Talk Across the Fence," at



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