Carol O'Meara, Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension

LONGMONT – Gardeners, gather your tools, pick up those gloves and stretch those muscles – planting season is almost upon us. Before you double-check the date on this paper, this isn’t springtime. The planting you’re about to do is for fall.

Sowing cool season crops in the heat of August means you’ll be harvesting sweet rewards when days get crisp. As daytime temperatures drop, most cool season vegetables begin maturing, and the trend towards chilly means those plants aren’t suffering hot flashes as they reach their peak.

Beets, bok choi, Napa cabbage, kale, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, turnips, and peas can be direct sown early-to-mid-August, but before you put the seeds in the ground, treat yourself to a little shopping. The savvy gardener knows that the time for finding bargains is now, when many retailers have seeds on sale trying to clear out inventory.

When shopping, look for fast-maturing vegetables to bring a harvest in before truly cold weather arrives. Grab packets of peas and try a few beets, or go for the spinach and turnips. If we get that September snow squall, don’t worry. With the exception of Napa cabbage, these vegetables will shrug that off, and continue to produce well into October or November when we finally get a killing frost. Cover the Napa cabbage at night to prevent frost from hitting it, uncovering it in the warmth of fall days.

Prepare your garden by removing all summer crop residues and weed growth in the area you’ll plant, and turn the soil at least six to eight inches deep.  If you don’t have room in the kitchen garden to add these fall plants in, consider ripping out the ornamental beds to make more room. Those flowers are just showing off, and there’s time to build a new bed before mid-August and get the irrigation in. Just use your vacation time to start another garden instead of going to a cooler locale.

Best results will be achieved by sowing seeds of broccoli, cauliflower or other cool season vegetables directly into the soil, but beware the hazards of a Colorado summer, and keep the surface of the soil from drying and cracking with a light mulch of compost over the seed row.

Lettuce, peas and spinach need a bit of shade to reduce heat in the soil for germination, and if you can, plant them under taller summer crops that will be finished with the first frost. Plant the seeds slightly deeper than in spring to take advantage of cooler, moister soil. Consider popping in a few annual herbs, like basil, for a late season burst of flavor to go with those savory vegetables.

Brassicas, such as broccoli, will turn bitter if water stressed and don’t recover once this has happened, so don’t allow seedlings and young plants to dry out.  Because cabbage loopers may be around, have a supply of Bacillius thuringiensis (Bt) nearby to help control them on the young plants.

And watch out for squirrels; they love to dig in the newly turned soil and pilfer seedlings.  My fall bed is shrouded in soft bird netting, which seems to keep the fluffy-tailed beasts at bay.

Once you’ve started bringing in the harvest, plan on freezing some to preserve it for winter meals.  You’ll be glad you went to the effort of growing a third season of food for the family, and won’t miss those ornamental beds after all.

By Carol O’Meara. Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Colorado State University Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail comeara@bouldercounty.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.