Fall Planting: Grow2Give Leads the Way – by Xan Nelson

Starting this weekend, the Grow2Give teams at The Peterson Garden Project will start removing summer crops and planting for fall.  Here’s how we, and you, can approach this project.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When you clean out your garden, take the plant material HOME and compost it or dispose. We don’t have the space or the staff (we don’t have ANY staff!) to clean up piles of plant matter in the garden. We need your help! Plus, keeping the garden free of piles of debris helps cut down on critters. Please help!

What to keep

The first thing to think about when preparing for the fall garden, is what do you have that will keep producing until the frost (between October 10 and November 1 in Chicago, depending on the current weather pattern and your microclimate).  We’ll be leaving the tomatoes (more below on “what to remove”), most of the squash, any greens or brassicas that survived the summer heat, root vegetables, peppers, eggplants, some of the cukes, and the herbs. These plants are all still producing a lot of harvest, and setting flowers.

What to remove

You have to look at your vegetables with a critical eye, especially when you’ve got limited space. Are your cucumbers mostly yellow or brown (or suffering from powdery mildew)? Even if they’re still bearing a few fruits, think about removing them, as they’re probably elderly enough to be slowing down.  The solanum family, too—look at your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. If they’re not bearing, not setting new flowers, or are suffering from blight or wilt, think about removing them.

At Grow2Give we’ll be taking out all the cucumbers, except the Armenians, and all the beans that are done bearing. (Many bush beans will bear all at once, and then slow way down. Don’t be afraid to remove plants that aren’t yielding at least a meal’s worth per week.)

Saving plants for seed

The exception to removing the plants that have slowed down is to save the ones you want to collect seeds from. We’ll be doing some seed-saving posts and classes, but the general rule for seed saving is “ripe is not ripe enough.” With most plants, you want them past ripe to save seeds. Leave a couple of cucumbers and eggplants, the last of the beans, a couple onions and leeks, the parsley. Do one more harvest, then let the basil bolt.

How to remove

If a plant is diseased, removing the entire plant, including the root. Don’t shake the soil out into the bed; just get rid of it. Do not compost diseased plant materials, or leave it lying around the garden. This includes blight-y tomatoes, anything with wilted or rolled leaves, discolored leaves, squash with powdery mildew etc. If you’re not sure whether your plant is diseased, be sure to show it to a Master Gardener at your Ask a MG night.

If you’re removing beans, just snip them off at the soil line, leaving the roots, which have nitrogen nodules on them. These will continue to decay, adding lovely nitrogen to your soil.

How to prepare

Once your bed is fully or partially cleared, amend the soil. Purchase about one 1.5 CY bag (standard size) for every 8 square feet (1/4 of a PGP bed). If your soil is friable (i.e. easily moved with your hand or light troweling) DO NOT TURN IT. Simply lay the compost on the top. If you really can’t stand doing nothing, gently rake it in. Any type of compost will do—composted manure, composted chicken manure (my personal favorite), mushroom compost, black forest or leaf mold compost, or a mixed compost are all great.

If your soil suffered from the heat and had gotten hard and difficult to dig, go ahead and gently turn it to work in the compost, breaking up all clumps. However, you want to move the soil around as little as possible. Rough turning can result in clumps, which is worse than the “hardpan” that some people have experienced. No other soil amendments are required.  If you have hardpan, think about planting some deep root vegetables like parsnips, daikons or carrots, not for harvest, but to break up the soil for next year (i.e. let them overwinter).

This is also your opportunity to repair your grid if you’re using Square Foot Gardening.

What to plant

Grow2Give will be planting turnips, beets, kale, and chard. Come to the plant sale on September 2nd  and find out what we’re recommending that you plant! We’ll have starts and seeds appropriate for fall planting in Chicago! Here’s some other good info compliments of P. Allen Smith – click HERE.

If you’d like to learn about fall prep, come to the Grow2Give beds on the following dates and observe:

Vedgewater, Monday September 3, 9 to 11

Global, Monday September 3, 2 to 5 (tentative)

Stars, Saturday September 8, 10 to 12