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From; Malcolm Beck

Fall is really the best vegetable season in south central Texas. The big commercial farmers have their best crops in the fall. At Garden-Ville, back when we farmed vegetables, it was always good for us.

The first thing, get rid of all the non-productive, old, disease and insect infested vegetable plants. Buried deep in a compost pile is the best place for them. If you don't have a big compost pile make one. Chop the old plants into small enough particles so you can cover them with at least four inches or more of good commercial compost, preferable one made with some manure. This will pasteurize it and make good fertilizer for the spring garden.

Spinach, lettuce, beets, broccoli, cabbage, collards, all the brassicas or crucifers do best in the fall as the days get shorter and cooler, also they are a lot more nutritious and taste better. They don't quickly bolt and go to seed and the harlequin bugs, their biggest nuisance, won't come near them in the fall. Red spider mites and many other insects are less troublesome when the days start getting shorter and cooler

Fall is the best, and in some cases the only, time to plant winter squash. Summer squash also does good in the fall because the squash vine borer may never appear .The squash vine borer has a strong spring generation and some years doesn't even have a second or fall generation, if it does, it is usually weaker.

Carrots, beets, turnips and other root crops are more favorable and nutritious in the fall. However, potatoes are very slow to sprout in the fall. Tomatoes do excellent in the fall and that is when they taste the very best, but the problem is getting them to turn red on the vine. However, fried green tomatoes are good eating. If an early frost is predicted, pick all large tomatoes and keep them spread out in a ventilated place or you can pull up the vine tomatoes and all and hang it in the garage or shed where it can't freeze. They will ripen slowly, and you may be eating red tomatoes from your fall garden into next year.

To prepare the soil, till in 1 to 3 inches of well aged compost as deep as your tiller or spade will reach. If you don't have compost, till in an organic fertilizer. After you have tilled the soil with the compost or fertilizer it is best, but not absolutely necessary, to wet the area and let it set for a week or so, if you have the time to spare, without running your vegetable maturity time short. The maturity time is usually on each seed package.

Organic fertilizers are always best in the garden. The n-p-k numbers are not as critical. Organics are less soluble, you can use higher than recommended rates without burning and they last longer. Chemical fertilizers are ok in organic rich composted soils; a lawn winterizer would be fine for fall vegetables.

After the transplants are in and the seeds are up, the most important thing is mulch mulch mulch. In the garden always use a finer mulch than you would use around shrubs or trees. Any type will do as long as it doesn't have too many weed seeds or possible diseases. If the mulch is too fresh such as wood shavings use some compost between it and the soil to prevent a nutrient tie up which could turn the plants yellow and slow their growth.

Remember plants that bloom before they fruit need a lot of sun light, especially morning sun. Also the bigger the bloom the more sun is required. Leafy vegetables like lettuce and cabbage can tolerate shade but still need some sun.

Expect some failures in the garden. Failures are necessary learning experiences and they make successes a lot sweeter. Have fun. Every garden season is a new experience. Besides good exercise, gardening is the only place where you can have your cake and eat it too.

Malcolm Beck

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last updated:  February 3, 2004