Sweet Fall Vegetable Gardens Start Now

By Linda Wiggen Kraft

During the hot days of August it is sometimes hard to remember the sweetness of cooler fall days. Now is the time to plant seeds for that vegetable fall sweetness. The garden will be full of delicious flavors due to the cooler temperatures and freshness of new plants. 

Seeds should be started now, some outside and some indoors. Four things must be considered in planting seeds for fall: first frost day, days to maturity, temperature of the soil and watering. 

Our average first frost date is October 15th, although sometimes the actual date is later. If later, we can enjoy even more fall vegetables. Many plants will survive a light frost and become even sweeter. All seeds have a “days to maturity” listing on the seed package. The number is approximate. 

When to plant the seeds can be figured out by counting back from first frost date to days to maturity. 

If a seed package says “55 days”, then those seeds should be planted mid August in St. Louis. Different varieties of the same plant can vary in days to maturity. Lettuces for example can range from 35 to 70 days, so choose plants that work for your dates. 

Many seeds can be planted out in the garden. These are plants that will germinate even in the heat of summer in warm soil. Basil, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, dill, swiss chard, radishes, and turnips germinate in ideal soil temperatures of 65-85 degrees. Most of these seeds won’t germinate if the soil is over 95 degrees. Soil temperature can be taken with an instant-read cooking thermometer. Push the thermometer’s probe deep into the soil. Shade cloth or a thin cloth can be put over the seeds and baby plants to keep them a bit cooler if needed. 

Lettuce, kale, spinach and peas all need cooler soil temperatures to germinate. Start these seed indoors. Growing them under lights is the best option, or in a very bright window. The best soil temperatures are 65 – 75 degrees, but they will germinate up to 85 degrees. Anything warmer and they won’t grow. When they are large enough to transplant in the garden, take the pots out into a bright shady area for a few days so the plants can adjust to the outdoors. Once planted in the ground, if the weather is still hot, a shade cloth will help. 

The biggest challenge in the hottest part of summer is keeping the soil moist for the seeds to germinate and grow. Daily, if not more often, watering will be necessary. Water the soil, not the leaves to prevent fungus and other leaf stressors. Use a gentle spray for the seeds and baby plants. Once cooler weather arrives, enjoy the sweetness of the fall vegetable garden. 

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a landscape designer who creates holistic and organic gardens. She is also a mandala artist and workshop leader. Visit her website and blog at: www.CreativityForTheSoul.com Call her at 314 504-4266.