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Summer abundance; looking towards fall

Amazingly, it is August. Gravenstein apples are ripening and their namesake festival is next weekend! My pepper plants finally have a nice set on them and tomatoes are turning color. Last week with the new moon I planted beets for fall and yesterday they started to emerge – yea! Soon I’ll need to map out the rest of the fall crops, but I feel somewhat prepared already since I stocked up on soil amendments last week too. For a gardener, security is a nice stash of compost.

Keeping your vegetable garden going through fall and winter takes some planning. Timing and variety choices are key factors. My August blog from last year went into some detail on variety choices. Variety is part of timing, since “early” varieties mature faster than “late” ones. But your location and “microclimate” are also key to timing as well. The hills throughout our county create a wide range of temperatures, sometimes even within very short distances. The sea breezes cool some areas in the summer while places those breezes do not reach are baking. In winter, canyon bottoms can freeze while south facing slopes still feel like summer.

The trick with fall and winter vegetables is having them big enough before the short days from mid November on slow growth a lot. My personal goal is crops that can be picked November through March, so through experience and keeping records, I’ve learned what varieties and planting dates give these results for my garden. Each location will be different, and each gardener wants different crops, but the iGROW Year Round Growing Guide and the tips Sara and I have offered through our blogs are good general guidelines.

Plant growth rate is determined by several factors including variety, air and soil temperature, and hours and intensity of sun light. “Intensity” refers to the fact that sunlight is weaker in early mornings, late afternoons and in winter, since it is at a very low angle. This is where the orientation of your location comes into play, as south facing slopes get more direct (intense) sun and north facing slopes get the weakest sunlight. Of course, soil conditions such as amount of water and nutrients greatly affect rate of plant growth too. But it is not a good idea to make up for late plantings by adding more fertilizer! Too much fertilizer makes weak plants that are more vulnerable to pests, diseases and freeze damage.

Complex calculations are not needed to figure this out, but understanding the concepts will inform your actions. And it is a good idea to keep notes of the details of your fall plantings so you can fine tune your variety choices and planting dates.

In our gardens now the main tasks are harvesting and watering – that challenging balancing act of not too much and not too little. If you’ve been watering minimally due to the drought, (which we all need to do!), you might consider if you can use some “grey” water or other low-impact source and do a deep soaking of fruit trees and any other perennials that might be particularly stressed from dryness. Too much water stress now can affect next year’s fruit crop and make trees more susceptible to pests and disease.

If you have more produce than you can use, consider preserving or donate to the food bank or a food pantry. (See the resources at http://igrowsonoma.org/harvesting-preserving-sharing.)

Enjoy the last full month of summer!