When summer begins to fade, don’t hang up that gardening trowel just yet. A renewed season of fall vegetables awaits in your own backyard.
Oklahoma’s mild climate is ideal for fall gardening, and Oklahoma State University Extension provides educational opportunities for both experienced and novice gardeners to extend the growing season.
“Small farmers and producers have figured out there’s a successful cool season in the fall, and they’ve really upped their production with cool-season crops,” said Julia Laughlin, a horticulture extension educator in Oklahoma County. “There’s beautiful sunshine and more reliable weather in the fall.”
This second wave of homegrown vegetables provides healthy food choices, saves on the grocery budget and supports a sustainable lifestyle.
“It’s my preferred season to garden and a nice time to start over if you planted something in the spring, and it didn’t work out,” said Courtney Dekalb-Myers, a Cleveland County Extension educator.
Any warm-season vegetable that can be grown within 90 days is capable of producing a bumper crop in the fall. Zucchini, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, spinach and several varieties of lettuce will continue to thrive. Pumpkins are a popular choice, and cool-season produce – including broccoli, cabbage, kale, spinach, cauliflower, carrots, beets and radishes – is ideal for fall weather.
“All cole crops have to be started from transplants, and those can often be found at farmers' markets,” Laughlin said. “For warm-season vegetables, just remember that with fall’s shorter days and cooler temperatures, it might take an extra week before they’re ready for harvest.”
Laughlin in her fall Master Gardeners course and Dekalb-Myers in her fall gardening workshop remind participants that it can be a challenge to keep certain vegetables cool enough in those last few hot days of summer. The decision to plant is based on an accurate day count and a little luck.
“We get out our calendars and guess on when to plant-based on past data of Oklahoma’s first freeze,” Dekalb-Myers said.
Once cool-season transplants or seeds are in the ground, moisture management is key, and mulches and shade cloth are effective in keeping the vegetables cool and moist.
Seeds for produce, such as beets, green beans and carrots, can be soaked overnight. They often won’t germinate if they get wet and then dry again. One of the biggest challenges is timing, because the window in which to plant, grow and harvest fall produce is what Laughlin calls “less forgiving.”
“Timing and moisture are everything. Once you get past that point of germination in the late summer heat, the magic of fall weather will take over,” she said.
1. Plant cool-season annuals like pansies, ornamental cabbage or kale!
2. Begin planting spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, hyacinths, crocus and daffodils.
3. Dig sweet potatoes and harvest pumpkins and winter squash.