Fall gardening, or second season gardening, means just that taking advantage of our wonderful autumn weather to do many of the same things we did the previous spring. With the exccption of getting the fall vegetable garden off to a good start, most second season activities can take place during periods of cooler, milder weather. There is nothing like planting a tree ornamental perennial on an Indian summer clay, knowing you will not have to stand over it with a garden hose all summer.
There are many other advantages to fall gardening -- not to mention the fact that it beats the heck out of watching the Cowboys lose or dodging 18-wheelers on 1-35. Here are some of them, as well as some tips on fall gardening success.
Once you get past the fact that soil preparation and planting needs to occur in the heat of summer (see Fall Planting Guidelines, page 30) in order for some crops to mature before cold weather, there are several advantages to growing vegetables in the Fall. First of all, many fall-grown vegetables have better flavor. That is because the shorter day length tends to concentrate sugars in crops like corn and beans. Secondly once established weeding, tending, watering activities will take place in cooler, less humid conditions.
At Texas Gardener we like to cheat the heat as often as we can so we keep our soil preparation activities to a minimum. We do this bu planting into existing beds without tilling. If weeds are a problem we mulch over them with organic mulch or newspapers covered with a little soil or rocks.
We very rarely replant tomatoes or peppers for a fall crop. Instead, we trim back the spring tomatoes, reapply mulch and top dress both crops with Sonic compost and fertilizer. Many years, we have had tomatoes at Christmas or later and our Fall peppers are often of better quality and quantity than those we harvested in June. Plant a row of green beans but otherwise we stick to the cool season crops like brocoli, cabbage, beets, collards, cauliflower and sugar snap peas. By not replicating the spring garden we take advantage of the existing growing conditions and plant the crops best suited to those conditions. We have found that it hardly ever pays to fight Mother Nature.
Insects can be a problem in a fall garden. Cabbageworms are one of the main problems with fall crops. Most worm problems can be controlled with a biological worm killer that will not harm beneficial insects or humans. With the exception of grasshoppers, most other insects can be hand picked and destroyed or discouraged with a strong blast of water. To control aphids just add a couple of tablespoons of dish soap to a gallon of water and soak them down good. This will help more in the spring but plant some clover and vetch around the edges of your garden. A good parch of clover or vetch is like a hotel for ladybugs.
Once you have attracted ladybugs to your garden, they will take care of any aphids you may have. Grasshoppers have been so bad the past few years that many gardeners, especially those who garden in rural, grassy areas, have thrown in the towel. The best solution is to use physical barriers like fiber row cover; encourage insect-eating birds like bluebirds, mockingbirds and scissortails to nest in your area by providing water and nesting boxes: and pray for a very cold fall and winter so the little buggers lay fewer eggs for next year. A new organic product called Surround is worth a try. This kaolin product is sprayed on the foliage and acts as a barrier to insects. It is available from Gardens Alive. Contact insecticides are ineffectivc in providing significant grasshopper control since reinforcements will arrive before you can say, "They're ba-ack."
(More to come...)