Start planting now for tasty fall vegetables

No, it’s not too hot to plant fall vegetables. Moapa vegetable farmers always had their vegetables planted by Sept. 1. The germination process is a concern, but the produce maturing in the cool of the fall will be high quality.

I’ll be teaching “Fall into Vegetable Gardening” every Saturday, and Russ Harrison will teach the class on Sundays, during September. It’s at 8:30 a.m. both days at the Springs Preserve at 333 S. Valley View Blvd.

Stop hiding the garden. Cool-season vegetable colors are spectacular when planted in the fall. Plant them for others to see among your flowers, or cluster them between shrubs or in containers. Here’s what to plant this fall.

Root crops include carrots, beets, turnips, radishes and parsnips. When cooler temperatures set in, they sweeten themselves while waiting for harvest.

Root crops grow fast. In fact, you’ll be eating radishes in less than 30 days. Beets, carrots and turnips are not far behind, but parsnips take a month to germinate.

Beets are a two-for-one deal. You eat the greens until the roots get an inch wide to eat. Corky beet seed balls each contain four to five seeds. It will be a thinning nightmare if all of them germinate, so space seeds out when planting.

Carrots are fussy roots. The long varieties must have an ideal soil to grow in, so plant short types to push into the earth. Carrots take two to three weeks to germinate.

The cabbage family includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kohlrabi — all high in nutritional value. Eat them fresh, or cook and preserve them. What relish dish is complete without cauliflower or broccoli?

This family adds color, shape and texture to any garden. Leaves come crinkled or smooth. Heads are pointed or flat and display all shades of green. Broccoli’s blue-green hue provides a color contrast. For a real surprise, spread cauliflower leaves out, and you’ll find a crown as white as snow. Kohlrabi comes with a swollen stem, resembling a crown with leaves positioned around the crown. You’ll forget about the visual appeal when you encounter the superior, fall-grown taste of the cabbage family.

Leafy crops such as lettuce, spinach, chard, endive and parsley love our falls. Swiss chard leaf veins become a brilliant red. Colorful leafy lettuce stands out even more. And spinach leaves become a richer green.

Cool-season vegetables struggle in our compacted soils. Expect bottomless beets, bitter lettuce, twisted carrots and pithy radishes if you don’t improve the soil. Roots reach out quickly to mine for nutrients.

Compost, planting mixes and manufactured composted soil become the key to gardening successfully in Las Vegas. Add a balanced vegetable fertilizer and sulfur to the organic matter and blend into the top foot of soil. Before planting, level the soil and moisten.

For fall plantings, plant seeds a little deeper than seed packets recommend. I lay my hoe handle on the soil and press on it, giving myself a depression at the right depth and a straight row in the same operation.

Instead of spreading seeds through the row, space them according to the instructions on the packet. It will vary with each vegetable. Place three to four seeds of head lettuce a foot apart. Firm the soil around the seeds so that emerging roots have soil to grab onto.

Stagger plantings for a continuous harvest. If you plant a packet of lettuce seeds all at once, expect 100 heads of lettuce maturing at the same time. Therefore plant a few every 10 days until mid-October.

Las Vegas soils crust if allowed to dry and then seeds cannot germinate. Lightly mulch over the seeds and keep moist so the garden stays soft and cooler to improve germination. Once seedlings emerge, water for longer periods of time but less often.

Thinning is necessary even though it breaks your heart removing plants. Head lettuce will never develop if it doesn’t have room to spread its leaves. Beets will be all tops if the roots can’t expand. Carrots become gnarled if left to fight among themselves. You’ll be glad you thinned when those vegetables grace your table.

Start thinning when plants get about 2 inches tall, following spacing directions found on the seed packet. Select one seedling and place two fingers around it and remove all its competitors as you move down the row.

Don’t throw away those seedlings. Eat, transplant or put them in the compost pile.

Finally, fertilize the garden monthly to keep them tender, and irrigate as needed.

Now sit back and watch your vegetables grow.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at linn.mills@ springspreserve.org or 822-7754.

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