Today we continue our gardening series with Dr. Mary Ball, PhD, who after a 40-year career as a college biology professor, became a Tennessee Master Gardener and enjoys gardening with kids. Dr. Ball has helped secure funding for gardening, nutrition education, and hundreds of dollars worth of donated seeds to schools and afterschool programs in rural East Tennessee.
Recently, when we harvested eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes in our Boys and Girls Club Garden on our Club Kids thought the little striped fruit was a watermelon. They were disappointed to learn it’s a “Poquito Zucchini Squash” and the conversation turned to “What can we still plant and harvest this year? Pumpkins? Watermelons?”
Pumpkin plants aren’t for sale right now and a seed catalog says pumpkins take about 100 days to mature, so to have some in time for Halloween, we would need to have planted them in June! Watermelons mature faster, in about 80 days, but these formerly-African plants can’t tolerate any cold, so it’s too late for them, too.
Many folks have the idea that, after we have our first freeze (in October here in East Tennessee), it’s time to pull out all the dead garden plants, have bare beds until next Spring, and wait for our harvests to begin again in the summer. But only some veggies, like tomatoes, will be killed by the frost and have to be replanted in the spring for next summer.
Here are three helpful September gardening tips:
When veggie plants die, don’t remove them and leave the soil bare.
- Bare soil can blow away or be washed away! Instead, plant something else (to harvest for eating, or as a cover crop*), or spread a decayable mulch, like straw, over the soil.
Next year, include veggies that will continue to grow outside beyond the first frost.
Try the beautiful and tasty “Swiss Chard,” and plant veggies in containers you can move indoors or into a “backyard greenhouse” to extend* the growing season beyond the first frost.
Use “days to maturity” info on the veggies to see recommendations in your area.
For example, radishes mature so quickly that we can still start those now, and we can plant them in among the things that are already in our garden. Here’s a fun idea: Each Spring, first graders in Charlottesville, Virginia, compete to grow peas and have the First Peas to the Table. Now would be a good time to plan a similar contest among classes at schools in your community!
One last tidbit – We learned to cut up our tomatoes using plastic knives, holding the tomato still with a “Corncob Holder.” We grated cheese and created a fresh pasta dish. Yum!
*Look for upcoming posts on cover crops and DIY Season extenders.