Spinach, Chard, and Kale- not only edible but gorgeous!

The mornings of late have been cool and there is a change in the air, fall is just around the corner.  Even if we can’t trust the weather, pre-season football games have begun so really, fall is just around the corner.  With the heat breaking and rains returning, now is the time to prep your fall beds and start planning cool season crops.

First step in preparing the garden beds is to clean up what may be left over from the summer garden.  As I write this the last of the lettuce has gone to seed and looking quiet toasty.  Squash and cucumber plants are also due to be pulled up as they are well past their prime.  Of course, as the veggies fell prey to the Texas heat weeds gladly popped up and grew happily in the heat with very little water- go figure.  So, now is the time to pull weeds, clean up dead plants and feed the soil.

Regardless of the type of gardening you do- raised bed, square foot, or traditional rows- you must return to the soil what you are taking out in the form of nutrients.  The best way to do this is the use of compost.  Twice a year, at the end of summer season and just before spring planting, I take compost and spread about 4 inches on the top of each bed.  I do not worry about tuning this under because as I am planting the seeds or seedlings, enough turning over occurs.  Every time you till the soil, whether by hand or machine, you interrupt the soil biology and slow things down, so the less you disturb it the better your garden will grow.  There are a lot of beneficial bugs in the soil, such as earthworms, that will gladly come up and process the compost for you bringing the nutrients down into the soil making them ready for the roots of your new plants.  Other ways to help feed the soil is to use liberal amounts of mulch and feed your plants with a liquid fertilizer such as compost tea during the growing season. For information on compost tea follow this link: http://farmonthehill.blogspot.com/2011/10/compost-tea.html .

Now, its time to plant.  I firmly believe that the easiest gardens to grow in Texas is a fall garden.  There are so many choices.  Carrots are best planted in fall.  Some will be ready by October, definitely by November and the rest will grow happily all winter long just waiting on you to come get them.  Our ground does not freeze, so all root crops keep well for us all winter long in the ground right where you planted them.  So make good use of this and plant plenty of carrots, radishes, turnips, rutabagas and such things.

Nothing beats fresh spinach!

Turnips also fall into the category of greens.  As you wait for the turnips to ripen, you can eat on the greens of the plant ( the leaves above ground) all winter long.  You simply pick and prepare them like you would spinach.  Spinach also being my favorite green to plant in the fall.  Of course, I type that and think, “Oh, but don’t forget about Kale, that is also our favorite”.  It’s true, we love Kale and Swiss Chard and so many other greens that grow great, most not really caring if it freezes a time or two.  Most years, Kale, Spinach, Swiss Chard, and  Turnip Greens grow fabulously all winter.

Lettuce is an awesome crop for fall.  Although it may now tolerate a lot of freezing weather, it will produce really well for several months.  For fall planting, look for the varieties that are known to like the coolest of weather.  Drunken Woman (seriously) is a great variety both pretty and tasty.  Tom Thumb is great and there are many others.  Mescalin Mix is simply a mixture of lettuce, spinach, greens and so forth snipped off with scissors when they are just a few inches tall.  The great thing about this is that they will all grow back.

 Any tomato, pepper, and eggplants that you nursed through the heat of the summer will begin to produce again.  Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbages, and very short season English peas also make good choices for a fall garden.  As you can see, there is a lot of variety to be had in the winter.  It kind of make up for the fact that our veggies stop producing well at the end of summer unlike our northern neighbors that grow right on through August.  Grow something this fall, you will be glad you did!

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