Time to start germinating seeds for autumnal veggies

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Time to jump into the future again: It’s autumn of this year, and tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other summer delicacies are on the wane. Does the vegetable garden appear melancholy and forlorn? No! It’s lush with savory greens that thrive in that cool, moist weather to come: vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, turnips, lettuce and endive. Right now I hanker more for tomatoes and peppers than cabbages and turnips, but nippy temperatures and shorter days will, I know from experience, bring on the appeal of autumn vegetables.

Planning and planting need to take place right now in order to realize my autumnal vision. First on the agenda will be sowing seeds of cabbage and broccoli, in early June – not right out in the garden, but in seedflats, from which, after about a week, they’ll be pricked out into individual cells in plastic trays. A little more than a month after that, the plants will be ready for their permanent home in the garden. That might be where early bush beans or summer squashes had been sown, harvested and cleared out of the way.

The point is that autumn’s broccoli and cabbage plants, although sown in early June, need not take up space in the garden until late in July.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, information on frost dates – both the last spring frost and the first autumn frost dates – can be gleaned by choosing a state from the website https://cdo.ncdc.noaa.gov/climatenormals/clim20supp1/states and then finding weather data for a nearby location. That nearby location for me is Poughkeepsie, for which there is a 50 percent chance of the temperature dropping to 32 degrees Fahrenheit on October 9.

I figure when to plant broccoli and cabbage by counting back the number of days these plants need to reach maturity from the average date for the first killing frost. And then I add more days, because I don’t necessarily want to wait until that first frost date before I can start harvest.

Not that 32 degrees would spell the death knell for broccoli and company. But growth slows dramatically as weather cools and days grow shorter, so I like to have my plants pretty much fully grown and ready for harvest before the first frost date. With cooler temperatures, vegetables can sit out in the garden patiently awaiting harvest in good condition. In warmer regions of the country, vegetable plants will actually grow through winter, making autumn a fine time to sow peas or set out cabbage transplants.

Other vegetables, with different numbers of days needed to reach maturity, need sowing on various dates through summer. Here’s the planting schedule for my Zone 5 autumn garden, having an early-October first frost date (as well as additional planting dates for vegetables of summer). Where frost dates occur earlier, push sowing and planting dates the same amount of time earlier, and vice versa for regions with later frost dates.

June 1: Sow broccoli and cabbage in seedflats; sow small amount of lettuce and cilantro in seed flats or in garden.

June 7: Third sowing of corn and second sowing of bush beans in garden.

June 14: Second sowing of cucumbers in seedflats; sow small amount of lettuce and cilantro in seedflats or in garden.

June 21: Fourth sowing of sweet corn in garden; second sowing of summer squash out in the garden; sow small amount of lettuce and cilantro in seedflats or in garden.

July 1: Sow endive and parsley in seedflats; third sowing of beans in garden.

July 15: Sow beets, chard, turnips, kale and winter radishes in garden; sow Napa-type Chinese cabbage in seedflats.

August 1-September 1: Multiple sowings of spinach, small radish varieties, mâche, arugula, mustard greens and pac choi-type Chinese cabbage in garden (early sowing will likely bolt, but later sowings will press on late into autumn); keep planting lettuce.

All plants growing in seedflats are transplanted out to the garden as soon as they begin to grow too big for the flats, which is typically four to six weeks after seeds are sown.

Multiple plantings of bush beans and cucumbers are ways to keep ahead of bean beetles (yellow, with dark spots) on the beans and striped cucumber beetles (yellow, with dark stripes) on the cukes. It takes a while for new plantings to get attacked, and that attack is mitigated by whisking the old plants, with potential attackers still feasting, out of the garden to the innards of the compost pile. Multiple plantings also help with summer squashes’ squash vine borers, evident from wilting leaves and a sawdustlike frass that oozes out of the stem – although I’m usually glad to be rescued from Excess Squash Syndrome by the time the borers take plants down!

The above schedule omits a few vegetables. Carrots: I don’t grow them, but if you do, July 15 is the date to plant them around here. Some people have luck with autumn peas. I don’t, because first it’s too hot for them and then it’s too cold for them. Still, if you want to take a chance, sow them August 1.

And what about rutabaga, parsnip and kohlrabi? All I can say is, “Yuck!”

If you’d like to know more about “Native Plants and Your Garden,” come to the free all-day event on June 1, including a free lunch and music by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge. For more, see “Upcoming Events” at https://catskillinvasives.com/index.php/news.

Any gardening questions? E-mail them to me at [email protected] and I’ll try answering them directly or in this column. Come visit my garden at https://www.leereich.blogspot.com. For more on local homes and gardens, go to Ulster Publishing’s homehudsonvalley.com.

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