Fall, believe it or not, is a great time of year to raise vegetables.
Rainfall is usually more consistent, insect pests become less active, and the baking heat of summer has passed.
But “A lot of people go, ‘My tomatoes are dead, so it’s time to put my garden to bed,’ ” said Hannah Halfhill, education coordinator of Toledo GROWS (Gardens revitalize our world), a nonprofit group that describes itself as “an outreach program that educates people of all ages and backgrounds about gardening.”
She wants folks to know that gardens still can yield all kinds of goodies from September onward.
The keys: choosing cold-tolerant crops, and using the best techniques and materials to keep them cozy.
“The easiest things to grow into the colder months are leafy greens and kale,” said Halfhill, who will be presenting a program on extending the season next week at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
Such veggies actually grow better in cooler weather and even tolerate light frosts.
As for keeping them thriving as winter nears, she suggests a couple of affordable, low-tech approaches.
Plastic mulch, for instance, is a thin, flexible sheet of plastic that you spread out on top of the soil. You poke or cut holes so crops can grow through.
It retains heat and moisture while preventing weeds from sprouting.
Another easy-to-use material is called a row cover, which covers plants, too, not just soil.
A lightweight, bonded fabric that transmits water and sunlight, it also does an amazing job of retaining heat.
You can simply spread it loosely over crops and secure it with rocks, say, or bricks. Or you can elevate it above your veggies by laying it over a series of parallel low, arching hoops.
Halfhill likes using narrow PVC pipe to construct hoops — it’s affordable, lasts for many seasons, and bends easily to your required size and shape.
Plastic mulch and row covers are “a lot less expensive than a regular greenhouse!” she added.
Although the season for planting heat lovers such as peppers and tomatoes is over, there is a surprising range of crops that you can grow from seed and that flourish in fall, including:
• Arugula, a fast-growing leafy green that cooks add to salads, toss with pasta, or even sprinkle over pizza.
• Bok choy, a type of Chinese cabbage that is especially tasty in stir-fries.
• Lettuce, a salad staple that comes in seemingly infinite varieties of leaf colors, textures and sizes.
• Radishes, crunchy and colorful little orbs that add zing to both salads and sandwiches. Maybe because they mature rapidly and are so fun to harvest, they are especially popular with children.
• Spinach, a nutritional powerhouse that can be eaten raw or cooked.
Diana Lockwood, a freelance writer covering gardening topics, posts on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mrsgardenperson.
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