Get started on your fall garden in mid to late summer and reap the benefits later in the season. Cool weather crops thrive when daytime temperatures are in the 70s and low 8s and nights are in the 40s and 50s. By the time temperatures begin to dip to below freezing, most growth will stop. Yet you will still be able to harvest these crops into the season until temperatures do not dip into the teens.
The trick is to get them to a harvestable size before temperatures begin to dip. If you wait until the weather cools off to plant your seeds, it will likely be too late.
To find the optimal time to plant your crops, you should find the average date of the first frost in your area. You can usually find this at your local cooperative extension office or any local nursery. You can also look online at the Farmer’s Almanac. Once you have found the average first frost date, check the back of the seed packet for each crop you want to plant for the “days to maturity”. Then, subtract that number from the average date of last frost to find the best time to plant.
It is a lot easier to begin fall crops indoors rather than sow the seeds directly in the ground. You can start your crops in a partially shaded area outside, or in a sunny window indoors. The seedbed should remain evenly moist for germination to occur. This may require watering several times a day if the temperatures are in the 90s. Alternatively, string up a canopy of shade cloth over a bed and start them directly where they are to grow.
Be sure to check your seedlings often. Once they begin to grow ‘true’ leaves, they are ready to be planted. Although warm weather vegetables, like tomatoes, beans, squash, and cucumbers, are often large, sprawling plants, most cool-weather crops are small in comparison. Because of this, they are easy to plant into any available open space in the garden. If you have tall summer crops, you can even plug some of your fall crops at the base of these taller, shade providing plants to shield your seedlings from the harsh summer sun. Once the weather begins to cool, be sure to cut the summer crops to the ground so that your new fall crops can flourish in full sun.
If the soil seems crusty and dry, be sure to break up the soil a little bit before planting your fall seedlings.
Remember to water seedlings whenever the top inch of soil becomes dry to the touch.
Cool weather brings out delicious flavor in leafy greens and many root crops. Cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage usually become extra sweet as the days get shorter. In the more mild climates of Florida, California, and the Deep south, fall crops may continue to produce all winter long. Wherever freezing weather is common, they will eventually succumb to the cold. You can still install row covers or cold frames over the crops to keep them alive and available for harvest all the way into the early winter season.
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Jujube Tree: The Easiest Tree You Will Ever Grow
There is no other tree that can give so much pleasure for so little effort. The jujube tree is a member of the buckthorn family, or Rhamnacae. The plant originates in Syria and was distributed throughout the Mediterranean at least 3,000 years ago. Today it is a very popular tree to grow in China.
This deciduous tree can grow up to 12 to 15 feet tall, but normally stay around 30 feet tall. The largest jujube tree in the United States lives in Fort Worth Botanical Garden and measures over 40 feet high and wide. Over time, the trees develop a beautiful gnarled shape. Most varieties have thorns on young branched and their leaves are 1 to 2 inches long, leathery, and a shiny bright green color. Jujube trees also have yellow-green flowers that are about 1/4 of an inch wide.
Fruits ripen in late summer to early fall. Many people enjoy picking them off the tree, after they have turned from green to brown, and eating them fresh. At this stage, their flavor and texture is similar to that of a very sweet apple, but less juicy. If left to mature on the tree, jujube fruits will dry. If they are picked when dried, their flavor is similar to that of dates, but less sweet. These dried fruits require no preservatives and they last ‘forever’, although if humidity is high, the fruit may be slow to fry and have a more limited life.
Jujube trees thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 9.
How to Grow
Plant jujube trees in a location that receives full sun and has well-draining soil with a neutral or slightly alkaline pH. Once they are established, the roots are very tolerant of salinity, drought, or standing water. During a period of extended drought, the tree will most likely survive, but it will not produce crop. Irrigation after a slight drought could cause fruits to split.
Plant bare-root trees in January or February. Spread roots over a cone of soil in the center of the planting hole and adjust the final height until it is equal to or slightly above the original soil grade. Trees often bare fruit as quickly as their first year.
Jujube trees do no require much work, pruning, or training. The best time to prune is in late winter or early spring before the tree breaks its dormancy.
Root suckers can sometimes be a nuisance, but it is known by most jujube farmers that the trees are virtually disease-free, and most insects ignore it as well.
In its first year, a jujube tree will appreciate the occasional irrigation, but after that it only requires water in times of extreme drought.