Fall Session Class Two – Planting

September 18, 2014

Author: Ian Whittington

Category: General News Planting 101 Stories from the Garden

Great news!

It turns out I really am able to grow everything I wanted. Well, almost everything.

This week Joe gave us the low down on what we can expect to plant for the fall season. With cool weather heading our way, we’re more limited with what we’re able to plant. While there won’t be enough sunlight for most fruiting plants I’m luckily still able to grow peas. Joe said if they matured quickly enough I might be able to plant some bush beans, but that’s still a little iffy.

Dried peas ready for planting

Dried peas ready for planting.

The main things we’re focusing on growing this season however are brassicas, which are a family of plants that include broccoli, cabbage, kale, and kohlrabi. To be honest I’m not a big fan of this family, but luckily leafy greens are also fair game. In fact, the upcoming cooler weather makes fall a better time for greens like spinach and lettuce than summer.

But besides the diminishing sunlight, one of the limitations of fall planting is that the affects of winter are quickly approaching. Don’t let the warm weather fool you: the first frost of the season is only weeks away. Well, at least the potential for it is.

Usually the first frost in this area can appear as early as the middle of October while the first freeze can happen by Halloween. While its very possible both may happen later, when you’re making as big of an investment as planting crops you’ll want to be as conservative as possible when estimating how much time you have before they’ll no longer be viable.

A little frost might not be so bad. According to Joe some crops, such as my carrots, actually get sweeter with the cold because they produce sugars as a sort of antifreeze. Even if they end up tiny, its good to know I’ll have some homegrown carrot chunks available for a hearty beef stew in a few months.

Newly sprouted carrots (bottom) a week after planting.

Newly sprouted carrots (bottom) a week after planting.

Still, the impending cold does impose limits on me. If we have such a short window before the weather gets too cold how can we still have a successful fall planting?

One way we’re able to do this is by once again using transplants. There are lots of reasons you may want to transplant something instead of growing directly from seed:

  • Some plants take a long time to mature.
    • If planted in the heat of summer to be ready for fall harvest, certain plants like our brassicas could’ve bolted or been attacked by pests.
  • It’s easier to germinate seeds in flats with consistent temperatures and moisture rather than fickle conditions that may not be favorable for sprouting seeds.
  • Plants that are started indoors in a controlled environment are often healthier and less prone to pests and diseases.

 

Despite my aversion to brassicas, I was determined to try out at least one of them. I chose cabbage because I can use it in some Filipino dishes like the pancit I mentioned in the last post for the spring session. I also chose lettuce cause, well, I like lettuce.

My kale transplant going into the ground.

My cabbage transplant going into the ground.

Making transplants isn’t the hardest thing in the world, but it does require a lot of time and patience. Once during my apprenticeship with Love & Carrots I had to set-up a few trays of lettuce transplants, and more than anything it was tedious. Luckily for us NFI already did all of that ahead of time plus the hardening.

“Hardening off” is the process of acclimating plants to the outdoor world in gradually increasing increments. For instance, you might put a transplant outside for an hour in a shady spot one day, than two the next, and so on for a week or two. Basically you’re trying to limit the amount of shock your transplants experience when planted as much as possible.

When planting transplants there are two things you want to consider:

  • The maturity of the plant
    • It should have two sets of true leaves and a hardy stem.
  • The weather
    • Choose a cloudy, cooler day or transplant in the evening.

 

Because it was so hot during the last class Joe advised against planting that day and recommended coming back later. It was just as sunny when I came back the next day but definitely cooler, so I went ahead and planted my cabbage and lettuce. But I didn’t just work with transplants that day: I also seeded.

All the wonderful transplants NFI provided us, include broccoli, kale, and lettuce.

All the wonderful transplants NFI provided us, include broccoli, kale, and lettuce.

Now you might be wondering why I would ever want to plant from seed if we can skip through a good chunk of the growing process by using transplants, especially considering our limited amount of time.

Reasons to plant from seed are:

  • Plants successfully grown from seed get a good start since they won’t have to deal with the shock of relocating.
  • Many plants do better when direct seeded than from transplants, such as root crops and those in the squash family.

 

Although we had lettuce transplants, those are another example of plants that are better with direct seeding. At least that’s what our handbook said. I ended up seeding three different types of lettuce with two rows each, all spanning the length of my old bean teepee.

Lettuce seeds in the ground.

Lettuce seeds in the ground.

To get a good germination rate I’m trying to follow good seeding protocol, which includes:

  • Being sure to read the seed packet before planting.
  • Planting a seed two times as deep as its diameter.
  • Always over seeding to ensure germination.
    • The smaller the seed the more you should plant.
  • Keeping the seeds moist but not drowning them.
    • Pay close attention to the weather to keep the topsoil moist throughout the day.

 

In the week since I seeded my lettuce hasn’t really sprouted much. I’m not too upset though. So far my carrots, spinach, and peas have all sprouted, giving me a good amount to work with for the fall. I’m thinking of trying to seed more lettuce the next time I’m at the garden. Hopefully I have enough time to get some strong plants going before the first frost appears.

If not, well, at least I can look forward to carrots.

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