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Learning to Grow: It’s time to begin planning fall garden

Published: Friday, July 19, 2013 5:33 p.m. CST

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The garden my friend Mary Ann and I have at the Geneva Park District community garden is in full swing. All it takes is a bit of heat, humidity and moisture and things seem to grow overnight. 

In the last week, we have had nice harvests from beets, Swiss chard, kale, and broccoli. The potatoes are about finished flowering; the tomato plants have many blossoms; and the sweet potatoes just love the heat. 

For some reason, our pepper plants in the garden plot are struggling. My guess is a cool spring and early summer, particularly in the evenings. Coincidentally, I have a few pepper plants in my home garden in the front yard, facing west and the peppers are close to a brick wall. These peppers are much further along – the reason – a microclimate created by the brick wall that retains heat from the western sun.  I just happened to get lucky this year and plant the right vegetable.

Soon the harvest of the spring garden will be waning and the summer garden just beginning ... so, what’s next?  Fall gardening, of course. Kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, and cauliflower often taste better from a fall garden because they benefit from the cooler weather.  

This time of year it is difficult to find transplants, so your best bet is to get the veggies that you like by direct sowing of seeds. Check your local garden stores for seeds that may be on sale. 

This year in the garden plot, Mary Ann and I are going to try and sow beet seeds where we have already harvested beets. We’re thinking that some of the shade provided by the beets that are currently growing will help keep the soil moist and keep them out of the direct heat of the sun. We’ll see. 

The last week of July is a good time to plant kale, Swiss chard, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, and kohlrabi. Some varieties to consider for kale are Redbor, Winterbor and Lacinato.  Swiss chard varieties to check out include Bright Lights, Neon Lights or Fordhook Giant. Kale and chard also provide great fall interest in the landscape. Other seeds to consider sowing as we move into August and September are lettuce, spinach, mustard greens and radishes. 

When planning the fall garden, the same challenges of spring gardening – cold weather – will become a factor. The average date for first frost in our area is around Oct. 7. Plan your garden so that it can easily be protected with sheets or light blankets. Also take advantage of small microclimates in your yard. Soil near a brick structure or cement patio will carry heat into cool nights. Find mini garden areas to scatter a few seeds.

Mmmm, I can taste that bean soup now made with kale pulled straight from the garden.

• Vicki Hagstotz is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.

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