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Fall gardening tips to extend the harvest season

October 22, 2011

By GWEN SISSON
sdnlife@bellsouth.net

While most people consider the gardening season to be over for the year, many fall gardeners are seeing the fruit of their fall gardening efforts.
Even as temperatures start to drop, cold-weather crops can extend the harvest into the fall months. Many local gardeners can harvest mustard and collards well into December.
According to the sample garden plan distributed through the Mississippi Extension Service, there are three plants that can now be seeded in this area to enjoy for the remainder of the fall — collards, mustard greens and beets/chard.
Wayne Porter, area horticulture agent for MSU Extension Service, said mustard, turnips, spinach, kale, beets and carrots can be started now. He said after the crops are up and going, apply mulch to help hold moisture, cool the soil surface and control weeds. 
The Starkville Community Garden has plots available for those interested in planting greens, but do not have the space or the sunlight available on their own property.
At the Starkville Community Garden project at Josey Park, gardeners have planted fall gardens with success, including radishes, Swiss chard, mustard greens, spinach, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. Starkville Parks and Recreation Commissioner Pete Melby said carrots were also planted last fall with impressive results.
Melby said the location should provide residents an opportunity to plant and maintain a garden that will produce food and flowers for 11 months of the year, and provide an opportunity for people to get out in a garden and enjoy the interaction between gardeners.  
Melby said in our latitude, gardens can be grown from February-mid May, and May-August, and then from September - December. He said the early spring garden can have lettuces, spinace, mustard greens, broccoli, cabbage, onions, and rutabagas. The summer garden will have tomatoes, peppers, squash, and peas and beans. And the fall garden is similar to the spring garden but can also include carrots and Swiss chard.
“Food security is a concern of mine and folks need to know how to garden and be able to provide fruit and vegetables for themselves,” Melby said.
Matthew Rye, director of Starkville’s Parks and Recreation Department, said plots are currently available for rent at the Community Garden for fall gardeners and can be reserved for the spring. The plots are about 36 square feet and are $30 annually. There is water available inside the garden.
For more information about leasing a raised plot, contact the Starkville Parks and Recreation office at 323-2294 or e-mail Matthew Rye at mrye@starkvilleparks.com.
A few tips for fall gardening include:
* Plants with shorter and cooler growing seasons thrive in the fall months. Consider setting aside a weekend for the entire family to get outside and plant some beans, peas and salad greens like lettuce, kale and spinach. Check out the region’s average date for a hard frost, and calculate back the weeks needed to successfully grow a full late-season crop.
* Rotate plant location. For example, if peas were planted in the spring in one section of the garden, don’t plant them in the same location for the fall growing season. Instead, consider using that area of the garden for spinach this time around. Rotating crops like this will help the garden’s soil to replace and retain valuable nutrients naturally.
* Keep an eye on plants as they grow, being certain to water daily and protect from the dangers of a hard frost. Monitor weather reports. If a hard frost is predicted in the area earlier than expected, cover the crops with blankets or plastic for the night, and uncover in the morning, once the threat of freezing has passed.
* Harvest plants as they reach maturity. Sometimes a chilly night with a slight frost can enhance the flavor if vegetables are picked during or immediately after the temperature drops.
* Assign a family member to record the entire growing season through the winter frost, keeping track of what was planted, the date it was planted, the flavor of the vegetables harvested and even which recipes the family made and enjoyed with the produce. Use this information next year to better plan the fall garden and increase the amount of produce harvested.

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