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By Tom Woods
The following article is by Charlotte Glenn. She is the horticultural agent in Pender County. This information on fall vegetable gardening also applies to Brunswick County. Read more of her writings on the Pender County Extension website at pender.ces.ncsu.edu.
Fall is a busy time in a Southern vegetable garden. There are crops to be harvested, and others to be planted. Pests and weeds must be kept at bay to keep crops healthy, while soils need to be covered to prevent erosion over winter. The following tips will help keep your vegetable garden healthy and productive from now until spring:
Many crops planted in late summer will soon be ready for harvest. Broccoli should be harvested when the buds are still tightly closed. If yellow flowers have started to open, then you have waited too late. Leave broccoli plants in place after harvesting the initial head. Side shoots will develop and will be ready to pick within a couple of weeks.
Cauliflower and cabbage may be ready to harvest soon, as well. Once the main head has been picked, cauliflower and cabbage plants can be removed from the garden, since they do not re-sprout. To extend the harvest season of kale, spinach and Swiss chard, simply harvest a few leaves from each plant each time you need some.
Root crops like carrots, beets and turnips should be mature soon. Harvest them as you need them. Most of these crops are fine left in the ground and harvested as needed through winter, though a layer of mulch will help protect them from hard freezes.
Not too late to plant some crops
While it is past the ideal time to plant many cool season crops, there are still a few particularly hardy vegetables you can put in the ground now.
Spinach and mustard greens can be sown directly into the soil from seed through October. These leafy greens are often sown in a patch one to two feet wide rather than in a single row. Kale and cabbage plants can still be purchased and transplanted for harvest later this winter.
Now is also the ideal time to start garlic and onions for harvest next summer. Garlic is grown from cloves available from garden centers or mail order suppliers. Soft neck garlic varieties perform best in our area and are excellent for braiding. Elephant garlic also does well here and has a milder flavor than other garlic varieties.
Onions can be set out from sets now or started from seed sown directly into the garden. Be sure to purchase short-day varieties such as Granex or Texas Supersweet.
Extend planting and harvest with row covers
Many crops can be planted now if provided protection from heavy frost by floating row covers. Row covers are specially made lightweight fabrics laid directly onto crops or stretched over support structures such as PVC hoops.
Lightweight row covers generally provide protection down to 28 degrees and let up to 80 percent of sunlight through, while heavier weight materials can protect crops down to 24 degrees but only allow 50 percent of sunlight through.
Lightweight row covers are often left on crops throughout the winter, while heavier weight covers are just put on at night or during extended cold spells. Vegetables that can be sown from seed or transplanted now if protected by row covers during winter include: lettuce, carrots, beets, spinach, broccoli, radish, green onions, kohlrabi and turnips.
Control pests and protect the soil
It is still not too late to sow seeds of cover crops in bare areas. Clover varieties can be seeded in the garden through late October, while grains and grasses such as wheat, ryegrass, or oats can be sown as late as mid-
As fall progresses, be sure to keep an eye out for our two most common fall garden pests: caterpillars and aphids. Caterpillars eat holes in the leaves of many fall crops and can be controlled with organic pesticides such as B.t. and Spinosad.
Aphids are much smaller insects that often feed in masses and are sometimes referred to as plant lice. They may be green, brown or gray and are often found on the backside of leaves. Aphids feed on plant juices and may cause leaves to become crinkled and distorted. Plants should be checked frequently for aphids and treated as soon as noticed. Organic controls for aphids include insecticidal soap and Neem oil.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.