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Why Not Plant Vegetables this Fall?

Posted September 9, 2014

As your late summer vegetable harvest winds down, why not celebrate a great home gardening season by … planting some more!! "What?" you may ask. "The leaves on the trees are starting to change color already and we're getting out scarves and sweaters. Why plant anything now?" Well, no matter how generous Mother Nature was in supplying you with homegrown produce over the past weeks, it soon will be used up, given away, or preserved for the coming winter. Imagine having a new stock of fresh, delicious, healthful veggies to enjoy as the weather turns nippy.

What Are the Advantages of Fall Planting?

Planting in the autumn means you'll be able to extend the season when you can pick the freshest imaginable vegetables. With only a few footsteps from the garden to table, you will have the crispest, yummiest veggies on the block. No overpriced, under-flavored imported produce for you and your family!

Fewer pests and weeds are another benefit. Your old garden "pals" are slowing down in preparation for the cold season, which means less time that you'll need to spend pulling weeds, mixing up natural bug sprays, or picking beetles off your crops.

The sun's heat is weakening and so too are its drying effects. In fact, in the Pacific Northwest, autumn brings rain, so much so that you'll need to take steps to avoid overly damp soil in your Portland landscape. Contrary to the practice in Northeastern states, avoid mulching your fall garden, as this will hold in moisture.

Which are the Best Vegetables for Fall Planting?

Greens are great, due their short growth cycle and fondness for cool conditions. That's not to mention the nutritional punch many of them pack. Try your favorite variety of lettuce for crunchy late-season salads and a healthy helping of Vitamin A. Leafy bok choy (aka Chinese cabbage) is delicious in stir fries or lightly steamed with a dash of soy sauce and contains plenty of Vitamins A and C, plus iron, calcium, and folic acid. Spinach adds bright green color, flavor, and Vitamins A and C when served either raw as a salad base or as a tasty ingredient in cooked preparations – think lasagna and quiche. Greens like kale and arugula, which have earned their popularity in today's cuisine due to taste and nutritional benefits, also thrive in fall.

Roots – carrots, beets, onions, and garlic – are protected underground from harsh weather until the soil freezes. Carrots are the most nutritious of these, with over 300 times the RDA of Vitamin A per serving! Although it's best to pull up root vegetables before the first frost, they will stay good for months if stored in a cool, dry, ventilated place. Try your pantry, garden shed, or basement.

Snow peas are a delicious treat, which also happen offer more than half your RDA of Vitamin C. They are better suited to fall planting than their famous cousins, shell peas, because they mature more quickly.

How Should a Fall Veggie Garden Be Protected In Cold Climates?

In general, vegetable gardens in Zones 11, 10, and usually 9 are not overly threatened by frost. In colder zones, soil freezing can cause significant damage. However, there are a number of methods which will help protect your home garden crop.

Try a floating row cover, made of lightweight synthetic fabric, which is permeable by oxygen, sunlight, and water. The cover holds in the sun's heat to keep the ground several degrees warmer than the ambient air.

A cold frame is a structure, often built of repurposed materials, which protects plants from the cold and thereby extends the growing season somewhat, usually up until several weeks after the first frost. The cold frame is usually translucent to admit sunlight and openable for watering purposes.

A greenhouse is similar to a cold frame, with the difference that besides, acting as a physical barrier to extremes of weather, it is insulated and artificially heated. It may also contain grow lights and can be used year round.

Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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