By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
Last week we talked about tomatoes. But fall gardens are more than tomatoes so what are good fall and winter crops? A successful fall garden starts with a plan for the whole fall season and beyond.
Here is how to plan. Timing is everything and unique to where we live. So, start with your seed packet. And while you are there, read the whole package since there is valuable information to help you achieve a successful harvest. Start with the days to maturity number. If you are planting seeds that require 90 days to mature, you just count back 90 days from the date of first frost which is November 8 and know that you need at least that many days to grow those seeds and harvest from the plants. Get out your calendar and mark that on your calendar as the date you need to plant. Don’t just assume that because it is the same type of plant that it will mature on the same date. You must check the back of each package. If you are sowing seeds directly in the ground while the temperatures are so hot, try planting the seeds under shade cloth to reduce the amount of sun and temperature on a hot fall day. Also, don’t forget to check the soil moisture and water the seeds as needed.
So, what are good crops to grow? Cucumbers and squash only require about 60 days to harvest so you should be able to get a good crop for several weeks before the first fall frost. Despite the name, winter squashes are not a winter crop. They grow in summer but store well throughout the winter thus the name. There is also time to grow and harvest bush and pole green beans.
Irish potatoes have a small window between the middle to the end of August to harvest tubers before the first frost. Use small whole potatoes rather than cutting large ones since the pieces tend to rot in warm soil.
Root vegetables such as radishes, beets, turnips, and carrots are easy fall crops. Again, be sure to check each seed packet because the plant date can vary by variety. The flavor of most will improve after the first frost.
Brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi and brussels sprouts are the traditional late fall and winter garden plants. These need to be started indoors 14 weeks before our frost date since they are cool season crops. They will do better under the air conditioner. Set them out six weeks before the frost date on an overcast or cloudy day so that they don’t get scorched by the West Texas sun.
Greens, including kale, chard, and lettuce, do well after the first frost and are an easy, fresh winter vegetable. Greens are for more than salads! Try lettuce wraps, kale chips, sauteed greens, and green shakes.
This is the year for you to have a successful fall and winter garden, so get started!
If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700.
Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at westtexasgardening.org. Click on “Resources”.