Urban Homesteader: Fall into a cool weather garden

It’s funny how the ingrained concept of “seasons” dictates gardening assumptions. In San Antonio “fall” just means “not so damn hot” and winter merely offers the potential for cold weather, so why limit your harvest to spring and summer? Fall gardening is just as rewarding, way more productive than fighting summer heat and offers a host of yummy things to grow–including a second chance at some of those summer staples that shriveled up and died while you were at the beach. With the first hint of more civil temperatures and a little rain under our belts, it’s the perfect time to start prepping, planning and planting.

Prep: Get those beds, pots or grow walls ready. Pull up spent plants and weeds leaching water and nutrients from your soil. If you compost, dig out the warm, dark, broken-down organic matter from the bottom of the pile and add it into your beds. If not, have a local garden or landscape retailer deliver a load to your driveway. Depleted soils need added nutrients, so fresh dirt, humus, light fertilizer or compost will give your soil the “oomph” it needs to keep your fall crops green and productive. Dig as deep as you can to turn the soil, loosening, fluffing and evenly mixing the new dirt, fertilizer or organic material into the existing base. Containers are especially prone to becoming root-filled, hard and depleted. Dump all the soil from your pots into a big wheel barrow, sift out the old roots, add fresh organic matter, and redistribute so your pots are ready to go.

Plan: Now is the time for all manner of greens. Kale, Swiss chard, spinach, mixed lettuces, radicchio, arugula, rapini, leeks, parsley, root vegetables, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts will sail right through a light freeze. Work around established plants, keeping in mind when they’ll die, how big the new plants will get, where the sun will be, etc. Summer chilies and eggplants may produce again in fall and winter. If you have healthy tomatoes, by all means pamper them. With enough sun they’ll produce until they freeze, which may not be until February. If you act fast, there are enough warm weeks ahead to establish new bedding plants.

Plant: Sort out what’s already there. My leeks have all sprouted, so I’ll dig them up, separate them and space them so they have enough room to grow. The mint is still lush, and my two-year-old chilies are spectacular. I’ll add new tomatoes and sow seeds in the empty spaces: lettuces, chicories, greens, parsley and cilantro, dill, fennel, carrots, turnips, kohlrabi. Consider which warm weather plants grow fast enough to produce, what thrives in cool weather and what to plant now for spring harvest. The point is to trust observation and experience, not just ingrained customs about what to plant when. Experiment. Play. Eat well.

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