As your spring crops of lettuce, carrots onions and peas are harvested, space in the garden begins to open up. The question is, what should you plant next? Now is the time to think about which vegetables you would like to harvest in October and November.
Long season, heat loving crops like corn, tomato, eggplant or squash need too long a growing season to offer a decent return at this late date, unless you have a heated greenhouse. Leaf and root vegetables – lettuce, spinach, chard, collards, and carrots – prefer to germinate at a cooler temperature. If you have ever direct sown spinach seed in summer, you know you are lucky to get even 50% germination.
To maximize the germination of your cool weather crops, try some of these guidelines:
- Search catalog and seed packet descriptions to find varieties that have both a shorter growing season and greater heat tolerance
- Cold treat spinach, onions and lettuce by putting them in the freezer for a week
- Consider soaking and pre-sprouting seeds (not carrots) in a damp paper towel in a zip-lock bag
- Get out your seed kits and plant seeds indoors in a cool room on the floor (tile is best). Cover seed trays with wet newspaper
- Choose shaded spots in the garden or use larger plants to protect seeds and seedlings from the sun
- Cover direct seeded varieties such as carrots with floating row covers, damp newspaper and/or shade cloth
- Water late at night with chilled water or even ice cubes.
Here are preferred germination temperatures for different vegetables with specific growing tips.
Beets: below 80F. Presoak seeds for 2 hours or sprout
Brassicas: below 85F. Transplant to firm soil or sow in trenches
Carrots: below 80F. Keep soil surface constantly damp
Lettuce: below 75F. Older seeds do best.
Onions: below 75F. Sow inside and transplant later.
Pea greens: below 85F. Pre-sprout and transplant to a cool area
Spinach: below 60F. Seal in zip-lock bag and freeze for 2 weeks. Sprout the seeds in the fridge.
Swiss chard: below 80F. Good substitute for spinach
Try these tips but do not be afraid to experiment with different techniques. With skill and luck, you will surely have a bountiful Fall harvest.