By Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
and the author of The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast and the new Grow Great Vegetables in Virginia
Cool evening and warm days signal fall in Central Virginia and time to finish planting the roots crops and greens we so loved in spring. Continue planting radishes, spinach, kale, arugula, tatsoi and other cool weather greens in weekly successions through the end of the month. Mid -September is the last sowing date for fall harvesting of spinach. In warmer coastal areas if you are having trouble germinating spinach try Sprouting spinach in your fridge for one week, then sow (if <68F, and dead nettle has germinated) or wait a couple of weeks for the soil to get cooler. Later plantings of spinach can be made for wintering over and harvesting next spring. You can broadcast oats into spinach at planting time in early September for weed control and cold weather protection.
Keep carrots, beets, radishes and all your other winter roots well weeded through September for maximum growth while it is still warm enough. Sow hardy lettuce varieties like Winter Density and Bronze Arrow every 2 days till 21st. Then transplant into beds spaced 8-12 inches apart and cover with Reemay or other spun polyester row cover for fresh salads all winter.
Sow spring oats in empty spaces for a winter-killed cover crop. By the end of the month start to plant vetch and winter rye as a cover crop on bare land. Water, weed, thin and compost strawberries for next year’s crop. Use thinnings to start a new bed. Continue harvesting summer veggies, using that last burst of summer harvest to make sure you have enough tomato sauce, salsa, pickles, etc to last the winter as the first frost should be coming early next month.
Here are some fall planting tips from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange concise fall planting guide:
Planning: Try to have as many greens and roots mature as possible ~Dec 15 before growth stops – from Dec 15-Feb 15 (Persephone days) what you see is what you can eat, don’t count on any new growth happening. If there’s limited garden space, greens are the most productive. Sow seeds thickly and harvest thinnings as plants grow. Once plants have matured to their final spacing, only harvest outer leaves, leave small leaves to become larger.
Most productive/cold-hardy greens: spinach, kale, collards, some mustards, Even’ Star Winter Arugula, cilantro, sorrel, salad burnet, curly parsley. Use row cover to extend harvest until Spring. Remember to keep harvesting your last summer crops, cover cropping empty areas and planting for fresh eating in fall thru winter and into spring!