Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Mississippi, along with the rest of the South, is blessed with a long growing season, and now is the time to plant a fall garden so that you can enjoy fresh, leafy organic vegetables often until Christmas.
Good fall plants include mustard greens, spinach, turnips, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, kale, various lettuces, radishes and onions.
You don't have to overdo it. Even a small "Jim's Plot," only 4 feet by 8 feet, can provide lots and lots of salads. (In fact, you might consider building a few of them for elderly family members or friends so that they can harvest some fresh food, too.)
It's hot now, but as temperatures cool, these greens will take off. Some thrive in colder weather. Many swear that collards taste better after a frost, for example; the purplish hue that the leaves take on is a mark of distinction.
Some plants—such as radicchio—survive when temperatures drop into the teens, along with some beets. Their leaves grow back and are delicious as greens.
If you already have a Jim's Plot, just turn under the existing vegetation for "green manure," allowing the plants to decompose in the soil. Add compost to return fertility to the soil lost from harvesting crops. You can also apply liquid fertilizers in spots to the started plants to give them a boost. (Use organic fertilizers only; synthetic fertilizers can kill earthworms and microorganisms in the soil.)
If you are just starting out, you can buy topsoil at some of the local yard and garden stores in bulk. Better yet, find a tree-covered spot behind a garage or next to a fence where leaves have fallen and decomposed over the years leaving the soil nice and loamy. Then find a sunny spot with southern exposure. Put down newspapers or cardboard to keep weeds out of your garden, and cover with the soil. Start a compost pile with vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and eggshells—no meat! Use the compost to keep your soil fertile.
How late can you plant? For a general guideline, count backward from first frost. Here in central Mississippi, we usually have first frost around Nov. 1, and the first killing frost Dec. 1. So, you can expect 60 to 90 days of growing if you plant now.
That's not a hard-and-fast rule. Frost can come early. I remember one October when the weather turned bitterly cold. Or, like last year, we could have a warm winter where the problem was keeping the plants from bolting (going to seed) rather than dying from frost.
Plant now to have wholesome, organic produce later. There's nothing better on a cold winter day than steaming cooked greens with cheese, onions, garlic and hot sauce.
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