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Prepare Your Fall Garden!

If you’re like me, you started off the gardening season with high hopes in the spring. You dutifully prepared your garden beds and planted your seeds, dreaming of the healthy plants and perfect vegetables you’ve seen on websites and in magazines. But by midsummer, the inevitable battles with Texas heat, drought, plant-munching insects, and various blights and diseases dampened your enthusiasm for gardening. And by Labor Day you were relieved to pull out the shaggy, overgrown, not-so-perfect-looking plants, hang up the gardening tools for winter, and plan for better things next year!

Although this desire to "call it a season" after fighting your way through summer's gardening challenges is certainly understandable, there's good reason to press on and plant a fall garden.

Fall gardening can be productive, rewarding, and is usually quite free of many of summer's challenges. After the dryness of summer, increased autumn rainfall brings a welcome relief from watering chores. Many insects have completed their lifecycles and are heading into winter hibernation, so you won't have to compete with them for your vegetables. The heat and humidity that quickly spread fungal and bacterial diseases (not to mention make the gardener uncomfortable and irritable) are no longer present. Overall, fall is a very pleasant time in the garden.

The long, hot days of summer can make it difficult (if not impossible, depending on where you live) to grow greens such as lettuce and spinach which will quickly bolt and become bitter, but the shorter, cooler days of fall allow the return of these plants to the garden. Brassicas such as broccoli, kale, and cabbages are the stars of the fall garden, thriving in the cooler temperatures. Root vegetables such as carrots, beets and rutabagas can be matured in still-warm fall soils and then left in the ground to harvest through Christmas (or perhaps through the whole winter, depending on your local climate.) All of these vegetables can not only survive a frost, but their flavor will actually be improved after they've been hit by frost a few times. This is because sugar is a plant's natural antifreeze. When temperatures drop below freezing, plants create more sugars to protect themselves and the result is much sweeter vegetables.

The trick to having a good fall garden is starting plants early enough so that they're large and healthy by the time of the first frost in your area. This can be somewhat difficult since your garden space is no doubt typically devoted to summer crops such as tomatoes, peppers and beans, that will keep producing until they are hit by frost. By the time you pull these summer crops out, it will be too late to plant the fall garden. It is important to plan ahead.

Once the summer stuff is all out, look for a place to plant multiplier onions and garlic. These are typically planted around the time of first frost in the fall, grow during winter and spring, and are ready to harvest in mid-summer. Another crop to consider trying to overwinter is fava beans. They can be planted in the fall and some varieties will survive freezing temperatures down to 10oF.   As long as your local climate is mild enough to allow their survival, the plants will act as a groundcover during the winter and will finish maturing and produce beans in the spring.

With a little bit of advanced planning, you could have your best-looking garden of the year at just the time when everyone else's garden is just a heap of frost killed vines. And you just may find your enthusiasm for gardening renewed long before the next year's planting season begins. 

Amy Muermann is a suburban parent, with a full-time job and a passion for self-sufficient living. Like many suburbanites, she feels the squeeze from every angle ... higher food prices, higher energy bills. When will it stop? How can we take more control of our lives? She embraces ways to live simply, to learn skills that can make you more independent and less reliant on others. Whether it is growing our own vegetables and fruits in our backyard garden, using rain barrels to capture and conserve water to lower our water bill, or making compost to enhance our soil and help our plants produce more food, you can learn new ways to be independent, save money and have lots of fun along the way.  Save seeds and then start our own plants on a grow rack in our basement. Build a home or apartment-sized Aquaponics system to raise fish and grow herbs hydroponically without soil. Use up kitchen scraps feeding them to worms (Vermiculture) to create a rich compost to enhance our garden beds.  Join Amy as she explores ways to be the Self-Sufficient-Suburbanite. your social media marketing partner
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