Q. A relative was telling me that you can extend the vegetable garden and you should start planting “fall vegetables” right now. What kind of vegetables is he talking about? He also mentioned something about “‘green manure” plants. What types of plants are included as a green manure to help out next year’s garden?
— F. J. of Columbia
A. Most of the early vegetables you plant in early spring work very well when planted in early August — broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. But you can have a little problem with lettuce, spinach, and peas as the soil is usually still too warm for germination. Shading the soil with burlap extended about 6 or 7 inches above the soil may keep the soil cooler so you can plant those three.
Make sure you remove any of the older non-producing vegetable plants and any weeds, and place them on a compost pile before you plant these fall vegetables. One benefit with planting at this time is usually you do not get any weed seeds germinating in the fall garden, except for chickweed.
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Till or spade the garden area for these fall vegetables about 6 to 8 inches deep and apply a general fertilizer like 12-12-12 at the rate of one to two pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of bed area.
You will have to cover these germinating plants with the first fall frosts to keep damage to a minimum. You can cover them with old blankets and sheets, but you have to lift these coverings with stakes so as to not damage the plant if they weigh down. Gallon milk jugs with the bottoms cut out work well too
Some gardeners use a cold frame with a plastic cover enclosed in a wooden or aluminum frame or a hot bed with heating cables below the surface to minimize all the work of covering and uncovering to protect these plants.
Green manure is plants that are planted in late summer and allowed to grow all winter long, then are turned under in the spring. Green manure plants include clovers, alfalfa and oats, which can be hard to find. Most gardeners use winter rye, buckwheat, hairy vetch and winter wheat. These are usually planted at the rate of 2 to 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet. No fertilizer is required. Some gardeners prefer legumes of alfalfa and hairy vetch as they are members of the legume family. These seeds can be inoculated with Rhizobium bacteria spores, which form nodules on the plant roots and convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates that can be taken up by the spring vegetable plants.
These green manure plants can loosen up a compacted soil to improve aeration and increase water-holding capacities. They also prevent erosion of the soil from wind and water. You turn these plants under in the spring a few weeks before planting any seed or transplants and till the soil one more time just before planting.
If you use the green manure planting in your soil for several years in a row, you will reap its benefits for many years to come. It not only increases the soil nutrients, but also maintains beneficial bacteria to help plant growth.
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WOODY PLANTS: Do not fertilize them. That would stimulate growth, which will not harden off before winter and will cause dieback.
POTATOES: Harvest after the tops yellow and die.