Margaret Lauterbach: Starting seeds for a fall garden

Special to the Idaho StatesmanJuly 11, 2014 

It's midsummer, time to start seeds for a fall garden. Our growing season extends usually until about Oct. 10, and often far beyond that. We usually have a night or two of frost about early October, then an extended "Indian summer" for a few weeks. You can cover frost-tender plants for those frosts, then uncover for further ripening tomatoes or squash, for instance.

Don't try to direct sow seeds such as cabbage, kale, collards, cauliflower or broccoli now, for the soil is too warm for germination of those seeds. They are great candidates for fall growing, though, so start those seeds indoors in cool locations.

It is too early to plant some short-season crops such as lettuce and spinach that will do well in autumn.

Growing a fall garden usually means less pressure from destructive insects and invasive weeds. Be prepared, though, for those large grey cabbage aphids that seem to know when you've shut down your watering system and no longer can blast them off plants.

Some vendors urge us to plant a fall crop of peas. I did that one year, and the vines were beautiful, blossomed neatly, and didn't form a single pod. Peas are self-fertile, so they should have set pods. I suspect that cold killed the pollen.

It takes about two months for peas to grow to harvest, so if you plant about the first of August, you should be able to get at least a few days' crop before frost puts an end to your snap or pod peas.

PLANTS DON'T LIKE THESE!

Seven deadly sins from the plant's point of view:

1. Planting seeds in too hot or cold planting mix (germination delayed or killed)

2. Watering plant mix and seeds with cold water (shock delays or kills germination)

3. Transplanting to larger pot too soon (no true leaves, only primaries) or too late (plant has overgrown its original spot). Too soon means no growth, too late means delayed adjustment before regrowth.

4. Failing to harden off sufficiently before planting out (leaves turn white, chlorophyll destroyed, plant dies).

5. Planting with wrong sun exposure (plant struggles, very little growth if any).

6. Failing to protect against frost (plant dies or parts blacken, setting back regrowth)

7. Failing to keep plant hydrated until established and then whatever plant needs (plant dies).

FRUIT THIEVES

I thought I was outsmarting fruit thieves with my yellow alpine strawberries, but a critter finally got onto the container, wallowed around and ate the entire rest of the crop. I don't know whether it was a raccoon or squirrel. Now I do wonder if the thief had finally homed in on the white mulberries, tasted them, then went looking for other masquerading fruit.

ELM SEED BUGS

Elm seed bugs will be trying to get into cooler indoors now, so arm yourselves with Dawn dishwashing liquid and rubbing alcohol. About two tablespoons of Dawn and a teaspoon of alcohol per gallon of water should kill those bugs outdoors. They'll smear and stink if you smash them indoors, so vacuum them instead, watching to make sure they don't just crawl out of the vacuum hose.

Margaret Lauterbach: melauter@earthlink.net or write to Gardening, The Idaho Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707

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