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Agriculture & Natural Resources Updates for Fannin & Gilmer Counties

The dog days of summer are at their end, and with decreasing temperatures coupled with a good rain, we are steadily moving into my favorite time of year. Autumn is underway, so if you haven’t planted any fall vegetables in your garden, you’re about out of time. September is last call to plant most fall vegetables if you want them to reach a harvestable size before winter hits.

The reason I say this is that while it still feels like summer outside to us, our gardening environments are steadily changing.  When you look, you can see signs of fall everywhere. All but the most stubborn summer vegetables are played out and the sycamores, black gums, tulip poplars, and cypress trees are all advertising the change of season with gorgeous mosaics of orange, red, yellow, and rust colored foliage.

Despite it still being rather warm out, animals are also aware of the change and are actively preparing for winter. Squirrels are particularly lively right now. I’m sure you’ve noticed them scurrying about in your yard. They are trying to bulk up for winter, so they are either devouring nuts, seeds, and pinecones on the spot, or they are electing to store their prized specimens in secret spots where the seeds will remain moist and fresh until they need them.

This is also the time of year when I get loads of calls from people wanting advice regarding which vegetables they should plant for fall. Of course, I’m delighted to get these calls. Unfortunately, I think many novice gardeners do not realize that the majority of the crops they want to plant for a fall harvest actually needed to be in the ground in August and early September, with some needing to be planted as early as July!

For example, long season crops like winter squash, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and rutabagas are traditionally winter vegetables that need to be sown while it is still summer. August and September are productive months in the vegetable garden, but growth slows considerably in October and just about grinds to a halt by November.

It is much too late to plant those crops now for a fall harvest, but don’t fret there are still some crops you can plant now, and if you want, you can try to overwinter some of these vegetables for a spring harvest.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, overwintering simply refers to the practice of leaving cold-hardy, established crops in the ground in the fall with the expectation that that they will survive the cold months of winter.  You won’t reap a huge harvest over the winter, but once the day length increases in the early spring, these plants will start to grow again, and provide an abundant spring harvest well before spring planted crops have even been put in the ground.

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension recommends this list of cultivars of cool season vegetables that do well in Georgia; however, there are plenty of others that will also do well. With a little effort, all of these crops can be overwintered, so long as they are established and reached adequate size before cold weather hits:

  • Broccoli – ‘Marathon’, ‘Packman’, ‘Patriot’
  • Cabbage – ‘Blue Dynasty’, ‘Bravo’, ‘Early Round Dutch’
  • Carrot – ‘Chantenay’, ‘Scarlet Nantes’, ‘Sweetbites’
  • Cauliflower – ‘Absolute’, ‘Early Snowball’, ‘Graffiti’,
  • Collard greens – ‘Blue Max’, ‘Georgia Southern’, ‘Hevi-Crop’
  • Garlic – ‘Inchelium Red’
  • Kale – ‘Vates’, ‘Dwarf Siberian’, ‘Blue Armor’
  • Lettuce – ‘Butterhead’, ‘Romaine’, ‘Buttercrunch’
  • Mustard greens – ‘Florida Broadleaf’, ‘Southern Giant Curled’, ‘Red Giant’, ‘Savannah’
  • Onion, green – ‘White Portugal’
  • Onion, dry bulb – ‘Burgundy’, ‘Excel’, ‘Grano’, ‘Red Creole’, ‘Savannah Sweet’
  • Radish – ‘Cherry Bell’, ‘Scarlet Globe’, ‘Champion’
  • Spinach – ‘Melody’, ‘Winter Bloomsdale’
Brassica species like cabbage, collards, and kale (Brassica oleracea) all thrive in cool weather and are best grown in fall and early spring.
Rebecca A. Melanson, Mississippi State University Extension, Bugwood.org

Keys to successful overwinter crop management:

  • Plant crops on time! Depending on the crop, overwintered varieties should be planted between mid-summer and early fall. If you’d still like to plant an overwinter crop this year, consider a type of leafy green or garlic. Garlic can be planted up into November for next year’s summer crop. 
  • Keep crops protected from severe cold! Cold hardy crops such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, and spinach can easily survive through the winter without any protection.  Other crops like arugula, leeks and lettuce often die when unprotected during periods of extreme winter cold.  A simple row cover can make all the difference between January harvests and mush!
  • Watch for pest damage! Winter is a very active time for slugs and vermin.  Keep an eye on crops for damage and harvest crops as necessary.

For more information about planning your vegetable garden at any time of year, see UGA Extension Circular 943, “Vegetable Garden Calendar,” at extension.uga.edu/publications.

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