I consider our annual fall season to be our “second spring”, a time of year projecting a promise of cooler weather and just in time to establish a fall vegetable garden. In a way, the fall gardening season is just like asking for second helpings at the table; we’re working our garden beds for a second serving of vegetables in one year, and we can be successful for our efforts with a little preparation and planning.
You would use the same set of criteria for your fall garden if you are starting from bare soil. Choose a good location in your landscape that receives 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight; remember that light duration and quality diminishes in the fall and to compensate with an appropriate garden location. Have a water source nearby for ease of garden watering. And develop your vegetable beds to properly space your plants for good air circulation and ease of harvest. You may wish to build garden rows up to 10-inches to provide adequate water drainage if you are having challenges with periodic saturated soils. Make sure to add composted organic matter to your soil as a general practice when establishing veggie beds. If you haven’t done so, I recommend committing a soil test to check on soil nutrient availability, pH and soil salinity levels. Our Brazoria County AgriLife Extension office has forms, instructions and collection bags you can use to submit your samples to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory, and you can always download forms and instructions from their website for the convenience of sending from home: http://soiltesting.tamu.edu/
In your planning and garden preparation stage, take into consideration the average first frost date for our county, which can range from December 11 to the end of the month and depending on where you live and your local climatic conditions. This information is very useful when planning on the right type of vegetable to put in your garden. I was given sage advice from colleague and Extension Horticulture Agent Elizabeth McMahon: when choosing vegetable varieties for a successful fall garden, think of plants in terms of frost susceptible or frost tolerant. This method of choice considers the biology of the plants; frost tolerant plants can withstand light to moderate freezes, and frost susceptible plants cannot. You can successfully garden with frost susceptible plants in the fall with varieties of tomatoes, okra, bush beans and eggplant. Just pay attention to information on days to harvest specific for each variety. You will have a much longer growing season with frost tolerant plants that include the usual suspects like broccoli, carrots, kale, and collards. To find out when to plant and information related to varietal days till harvest, visit the Brazoria County AgriLife Horticulture webpage and look for links under Hot Horticulture Topics: https://brazoria.agrilife.org/horticulture. I have a list of vegetable varieties appropriate for our county that includes growth estimates, as well as a separate document you can download with a bar graph of when to plant each veggie.
You may decide to let your garden bed rest in between seasons. I recommend planting a cover crop that will add nutrients to your soil when you are ready to plow in for the next seasons garden. Cereal Rye, also called Elbon Rye, is a great species to use for a cover crop. Cereal Rye adds greenery to the garden and assists reducing pest nematode populations. Make sure to shred and till the grass one month before planting to allow time for decomposition. If weeds are a constant problem in your dormant garden, you can suppress weed growth by laying clear plastic directly on top of the soil and securing at the edges to prevent sheets from sailing away in the wind. Remove dead material and weeds from the treatment area, water the soil and then cover the area with clear plastic. This method works best in the heat of summer, and can still be applied during the fall and winter seasons.
A second helping of seasonal gardening activities can be beneficial to your health and extend your nutritional options throughout the season. I invite you to share your ideas and successes in your garden by browsing online to my Facebook webpage: www.facebook.com/stephenbhorticulturist. See you in the garden!