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Care of Fall Crops

Here are some helpful tips for preparing your garden for fall crops and harvest.

Once you're aware of your area's first frost date, begin harvesting all ripe, tender crops (such as: summer squash, melons, eggplant, cucumbers, peppers and okra). If the frost warning is mild (no lower than 30 degrees F.), try covering tender plants that hold an abundance of immature fruit. When using a cold frame to extend the harvest season, be sure to close the top on frosty nights to protect the plants from the cold. When the sun comes out the next morning and the air warms, open the cold frame again; but leave it closed if daytime temperatures are low.

Cool-season crops such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts can withstand some cold. In fact, their flavor may be enhanced after a frost. They cannot stay in the garden all winter, but do not need to be picked immediately when frost comes. Kale, spinach, evergreen bunching onions, lettuce, parsley, parsnips, carrots and salsify are some crops that may survive all winter in the garden. Mulch these overwintering vegetables with 8" of mulch to prevent heaving of the soil. Most of these vegetables can be dug or picked as needed throughout the winter or in early spring.

Prepare perennial vegetables for winter by topdressing with manure or compost and a layer of mulch which reduces damage from freezing and thawing. Dead leaf stalks of perennial vegetables such as asparagus and rhubarb should be cut to the ground after their tops are killed by frost. Don't forget strawberry beds. Remove weeds that you let grow when you were too busy last summer. If strawberry plants are healthy and vigorous, transplant some of the runner plants by carefully digging a good-sized ball of soil with the roots. Mulch the bed well with a light material. Old raspberry canes can be cut back at this time or late in the winter.

When tender crops have been harvested and overwintering crops cared for, pull up all stakes and trellises in the garden except those that are marking the sites of overwintering plants. Clean stakes and trellises of remnants of plant materials and soil. Hose them down and allow to dry before storing them.

(For the complete, printable article, feel free to download the .pdf file attached.)

Excerpted from "Fall Vegetable Gardening" by Diane Relf, Virginia Cooperative Extension Specialist, Environmental Horticulture, Publication Number 426-334, August 1996, at www.ext.vt.edu.