Monday, 26 July 2010

Fall & winter gardening in summer

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

If your climate allows, now is the time to be getting your fall and winter vegetable garden planted in preparation for those shorter days that are inevitable as summer slips by. Fall and winter gardening is about harvesting not growing - so it is important that the plants get some growth on them before the shorter days of September arrive.

While we wait all winter for warmer weather so we can start our seeds, now the sun is here with a vengeance and the heat that was coveted just a while ago, is now hindering seed starting efforts. Cool weather crops get a little balky when soil temperatures reach 85 degrees F, but with a little effort we can mimic the cooler weather of late spring and early summer and still get the plants going.

For vegetables I want to transplant, I provide shade for my flats, or at the very least morning sun only, and protection from afternoon sun. After our cool, wet spring when it was time to start my fall and winter brassicas - we got our first heat wave - the thermometer hovered just below the century mark for a week - all the while when I watered I worried about actually stewing my seeds it was so warm. But shade and daily watering did the trick. Our greenhouses are oriented north and south, and by placing my flats outside on the north end of the greenhouse, the plants receive bright indirect light, and are shaded by the greenhouse somewhat. Now the seedlings can handle a little sun for growth, but since they are in black plastic flats I have to keep a careful watch on them for any signs of heat or drying out.

The other conundrum is direct seeding in hot soil - seeds like to germinate when the soil and air conditions are right- warmth and moisture are what seeds really, really want. Providing that in the garden in the right combination is harder by our hand than that of Mother Nature's. Have you ever noticed the flush of new weeds seeds germinated after a summer rain, compared to the mediocre showing of weeds after irrigating your garden? Some stalwart candidates always show up near drip lines or where you water, but after a rain, everyone shows up at the party. I swear, during our dry summers when it finally does rain, I can hear the plants sigh with relief. They like water on every surface - not just at their roots. Maybe a comparison for us would be a spit bath as opposed to a shower - not the same by any means.

It may seem counter-intuitive to add a blanket in oppressive heat, but actually my lightweight row cover that I use for daikon radish and salad turnips actually reflects the light and helps the seeds germinate as if it was a cooler. And with seeds like carrots and parsnips that take a long time to germinate but want cool, moist soil but no crust, the row cover works very well, because it bears the brunt of the pounding water droplets, allowing water through while keeping a soil crust from forming.

If you don't use row covers, and just plain don't want to use the product, there are other methods too. One that works especially well is to irrigate the area you want to plant very well, and when it is dry enough to work, plant your seeds. For fine seeds that take up to 3 weeks to germinate, covering the furrow with potting soil or seed starting mix works good too. The peat moss in the potting soil holds moisture and doesn't crust allowing the tiny seedling to emerge. I have also heard of using boards or cardboard too, to keep in moisture, the seeds don't need light to germinate, and the board will keep the soil moist until the seedlings emerge.

I am sure there are many more ideas out there, but these are just a few that I have had success with. Happy Fall gardening!!