If you plant by the moon, as many Tennessee gardeners like to do, you will already know that from now until August 16th is the time to plant fall root crops. And even if you don’t pay attention to the moon, now is still a good time to plant. Our favorite root crops mature in about 60 days, so planting now means your crop should be ready during the first two or three weeks of October. With the cooler temperatures that should arrive with the autumn equinox, root veggies should be very happy. Most root crops produce better quality veggies when they can mature during cool weather.
Radishes should wait a bit, however. Because they typically take only about 30 days to mature, I plan to hold off until after Labor Day to plant them. If the seeds go out when the weather is too hot, young seedlings may simply die from excessive heat.
This week and next, we are planting leeks, scallions, beets, carrots and turnips. The leeks and scallions will be started in pots, while the others will go directly in the ground.
We are trying ‘King Sieg,’ a leek cultivar intended for overwintering outdoors. With the mild winters we have experienced recently, this one seems like a good bet. Scatter leek seeds thinly on the surface of a pot of growing mix, keep well watered, and start feeding when the hairlike seedlings are two inches tall. When they are the diameter of a pencil, transplant to the garden. They will take 8 to 10 weeks to reach this size, so have patience. Scallions should be started similarly, but you can transplant as soon as they are about 6 inches tall. Scallions have done poorly for us during winter, so we try to get them out in time to harvest them all by Thanksgiving.
Another crop that can remain in the ground all winter long is carrots. We will plant ‘Kaleidoscope’ next week. This cultivar produces carrots of different colors, white, red, purple and yellow, in addition to the traditional orange. They are also some of the sweetest carrots we have grown. Sow seeds where you want them to grow and barely cover. I like to cover them with vermiculite, to retain moisture and promote germination. Carrots can take two weeks to germinate. As soon as true leaves appear, thin to stand one inch apart. When they are four inches tall, thin out every other plant and leave the rest to mature. Early thinning is the key to growing great carrots, provided the soil is deep enough. If you have shallow soil, choose a cultivar that remains short, such as ‘Danvers 126,’ or grow baby carrots, such as ‘Little Finger.” (That's the one in the image at left.)
Beets do very well in Tennessee as a fall crop, and we think they are sweeter than spring-grown beets. Sow directly in the garden, cover with a half inch of soil, and thin to stand 3 inches apart when the plants are about four inches tall. The ones you thin out make excellent salad greens. Harvest when they reach the size of a golf ball. The favorite around here is ‘Detroit Dark Red.’ We have tried ‘Chioggia’ and ‘Golden’ with mixed results. ‘Detroit’ has proven itself to be a consistent performer.
Plant turnips now, or wait a month if you prefer. They mature in about 45 days, but you can eat the greens from the time they are six inches tall. Plant them in rows, covering the seed about ¼ inch, and thin when they are four inches tall. For greens, leave them about two inches apart. For roots, thin to about four inches apart. Either way, you can eat the thinnings in salad if they are small and tender, or cook them if not. Turnip greens are among the most popular of potherbs for traditional cooked greens. Turnips are frost tolerant, so they can provide one of your latest outdoor crops. Besides the traditional purple top types, Japanese white turnips do well here. Harvest when they are less than two inches in diameter for optimum quality.
The new moon arrives again on August 17, and that will herald the time for planting fall green crops. More about those in a future post.