Saturday, September 7, 2013

September Is the New April

For gardeners in the Tennessee Valley region, September can be as busy a month as April is. The mild weather we usually experience at this time of year allows us to grow a "third season" of vegetable crops.

Keep picking summer vegetables, like okra, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, to keep them producing. Most of these will bear right up until frost damages them.

From now until the end of the month is a good time to transplant any of the cole crops: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi. Plants are available at garden centers throughout the region. If you don't find the plants you want, make a note for next year to start them yourself from seeds, which should go into trays in late July through early August. Allow four to six weeks from seed to transplant size.

Cilantro is a great fall crop.
Now is also the perfect time to start seeds of lettuce, spinach, bak choy and other fall greens. While you can direct sow these seeds and thin after they germinate, I find it more efficient to start them in 36-cell trays. I sow two or three seeds per cell, then thin to one per cell as soon as true leaves appear. After thinning, I feed lightly with timed-release fertilizer, and leave the plants in the trays for about 30 days total. When the plants are ready, set them out at the spacing recommended on the seed packet, or about six inches apart when in doubt, and fertilize again. Allowing the plants plenty of room to grow will yield nice, uniform heads of lettuce. Spinach handled this way can grow leaves the size of ping pong paddles. Bok choy will produce harvestable heads within two weeks of transplanting.

Scallions and cilantro also lend themselves to starting in cell trays. Put a pinch of seed in each cell. Do not thin. When the plants are three inches tall, transplant the entire plug to the garden. This will produce a bunch of onions or a clump of cilantro from each plug. Harvest by pulling the whole bunch. You will get clumps roughly the size of those bunches you find in the grocery store.

You still have time to plant garlic and shallots. They should be in the ground by the end of September, however, to encourage the biggest yield next summer.

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