Many gardeners began the summer resolved to plant more edibles.
If you are one of them, I hope that your garden has been a rewarding diversion and source of fresh food. Here are suggestions for the vegetable garden as the summer winds down.
Plant fall crops
I consulted two of our Master Gardeners vegetable experts for their favorites to plant now through early fall. Carolyn Fetrow recommends spinach, beets, carrots and kale, noting that carrots and kale taste even better if harvested after first frost. Michèle Pique suggests greens that can be cut throughout the fall and will regrow: leaf lettuces, escarole, Swiss chard, turnip green and mesclun mixes and — if you like spicier greens — arugula and mustard. If planting seeds in August, Michèle recommends covering them with garden cloth to help retain moisture for germination.
Plan for next year
Before you remove any of your summer crops, make a sketch, or at least some notes, of which vegetables you planted where. To avoid having pests or diseases build up from year to year, plan to “rotate crops.” This means changing out vegetables from one plant family with vegetables from another family. For example, planting tomatoes this year and then eggplants in the same spot next year is not a rotation, because these two vegetables are in the same family and can be affected by the same pest and diseases.
Here is a list of some popular vegetable families to help with your planning: solanaceous: tomato, eggplant, potato, peppers; legumes: beans, peas; cucurbits: squash, melons, cucumbers; brassica: cabbage, kale, broccoli; aster: lettuce, endive; chenopods: beets, Swiss chard.
When your summer vegetables cease to produce, compost them or turn them under to improve the soil. Any material that contains disease or insect pests should be removed completely.
Improve the soil
Fall is a great time to get specific recommendations from a Penn State Soil test (bit.ly/PSUSoilTesting). Most vegetable gardens benefit from a fall application of compost or shredded leaves-created by running a mulching lawn mower over a raked pile.
Plant a cover crop
Cover crops, or green manure, decrease winter erosion and, when turned under in spring, add nutrients and organic matter to your soil and improve soil structure. Cover crops can be planted from early August until around Oct. 1, and include alfalfa, barley, buckwheat crimson clover, oats, rye, hairy vetch and winter wheat. For those who have trouble parting ways with their summer vegetables, I recommend winter rye, as it is the cover crop that can be planted the latest.
Spotted lanternfly update
If you are spotting this pest in your garden, it is important to weigh any steps you take to control it with impact on your plants and the environment. Check out this article by Penn State to help decide if and when to treat for spotted lanternfly: bit.ly/PSULanternflyOrnamentals.
For more information or answers to specific garden questions, consult a Master Gardener at LancaterMG@psu.edu.
Lois Miklas is the coordinator of the Penn State Master Gardener Program in Lancaster County.