Posted by The Editorial Desk / Thursday, August 18th, 2011
Wednesday was a beautiful night to spend outdoors, so I headed over to Arlington’s Central Library demonstration vegetable and herb garden, where Don Weber, USDA-ARS Entomologist and Plot Against Hunger volunteer, gave a talk and fielded questions about fall vegetable gardening. At the close of the night, attendees received seeds (including Bolero carrots) as well as collard, (Win Win) bok choy, and broccoli transplants for their own gardens.
Admittedly, I don’t know much about gardening, but it was clear that many of the approximately 35 attendees have been regularly getting their hands in the dirt (including a woman who brought a leaf from her pumpkin plants so that Weber could diagnose its ills—turns out her worries were ill-founded). Weber’s message for the night was that gardening fun does not have to end with the harvesting of warm season crops such as tomatoes, sweet corn and cucumber.
The end of summer and early fall is the most pleasant time of year to work in your garden, as the weather is milder. And your soil likes this season too—it retains water better. Generally, you will experience less of a pest problem (although the dreaded Harlequin bugs—related to the stink bug and also called “Sherman bugs” because they arrived in the South from Central America during the time of the Civil War—can wreck even more havoc in the fall.)
So what can you plant between now and mid-September? Cool season crops (broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, lettuce and peas) prosper during the cooler days of autumn and can withstand light frosts; and frost-hardy crops (carrots, leeks, kale, Brussel sprouts, spinach, and turnips), as suggested by their moniker, are harvestable long after freezing weather.
Takeaway points of the night were:
1) Time of planting is essential.
2) Make sure that your soil is well taken care of before planting. You can use compost or some other nutrient amendment. Plant seeds deeper into the soil than you would for spring planting and consider placing a board (not cedar or pressure-treated) over the seeded soil until sprouts are visible.
3) Transplants are more resistant to heat, drought, and pests as opposed to seeds, so you may consider planting these during August and September. If you use seeds, you may want to invest in pelletized seeds for plants that are slow to germinate, like carrots, celery and spinach. These seeds are coated in clay, thereby retaining hydration better.
Weber presented attendees with a vegetable planting guide (available here), which details depth for planting, spacing of crops, and fall planting dates. He cautioned that it was specifically tailored for Arlington’s microclimate (where the first killing frost arrives around early to mid-November), so don’t expect to have the same success in, say, Leesburg. (To create your own guide for other microclimates, he suggests using the Johnny’s Selected Seed calculator.)
Are you a curious gardener who wants to get regular advice from the experts? Here are a few invaluable resources:
- Stop by the Plants Clinic held at the Central library by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia on Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m.
- Visit the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia tables at three area farners markets (Arlington from 8-11 a.m.; Old Town, Alexandria from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m.; and Del Ray from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.)
- Get help year round by calling the Master Gardener Help Desk: (703) 228-6414.
Other upcoming events at the library include an August 31 talk on both composting and “bodywise” gardening (i.e., how not to hurt yourself ) and inside the library in September, a lecture by Dan Redmond on the agricultural history of Arlington County.
Happy gardening! And speaking of gardens . . . be sure to read tomorrow’s Gut Check for more information on the Arlington Central library’s demonstration garden and the Arlington Food Assistance Center’s Plot Against Hunger program.
-Johnisha M. Levi