The Fall Planting Conundrum

A few weeks back we started getting pretty worried about whether the seemingly endless summer heatwave of 2017 was going to endure right up until Labor Day.  The first two weeks of August were almost as hot as it had been in July.
Late August and all of September are critical months for us to get our fall and winter crops planted.  This is a conundrum for us.  Cool season vegetables can only handle a certain amount of hot weather, and certainly not extreme heat for days and days.  But by the time it cools off in the fall, the days have gotten too short.  So we were very happy when it cooled off nicely last week and gave the little carrot, celery, kale and other seedlings a chance to get acclimated.
This week it’s warming up again, but we’ll be planting broccoli, cabbage and some cauliflower — all of which actually enjoy hot weather when they are young.  They just need plenty of water.  So we always plant just after dawn this time of year, and make sure to finish by 9 or 10 at the latest.  That gives us time to get the plants nice and wet before noon.
The end of summer is also planting time here for strawberries.  We plowed under a beautiful lush cover crop of leguminous cowpeas last week, and we’ll be getting the field ready to plant next week.  Then we’ll wait for the ideal weather before pushing the delicate “bare root” plants into the soil.  They will need at least a few days without extreme heat to push out their new leaves and start growing.  In other years we have planted the berries as early as August 20th, and as late as September 9th.  Any later and they might not reach the size they need to be to survive a winter cold spell or two.
Another big task for us in late summer is our winter squash harvest.  We’ve started cutting and collecting a few varieties, and you’ll probably see some Delicata in your boxes soon. But for the most part the squash seem to be taking their time to mature this year, despite all the hot weather.
Winter squash loves hot weather while it’s growing.  But when we cut the ripening fruit from the vines, we have to leave them to cure for at least a few days.  During this time they are susceptible to sunburning since they no longer have the lush canopy of leaves to protect them from the sun.
In the next few weeks you will see the slow transition from summer to fall in your boxes, as the diversity of vegetables and fruits reaches its peak in September.  It’s a great time to eat and cook local fresh produce.



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