Planting My Fall Garden

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Growing in the fall proved to be very challenging for me last year. I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Mobile, Alabama last summer. After arriving in Mobile, I remained in ‘California mode’, as I call it, for a while. In California, I grew my vegetables using compost from Napa County and could grow just about anything in my Napa County compost with no problem at all. I no longer have access to my Napa County compost. My homemade compost as well as the soil in my yard in Mobile is very different from what I had in California. The climate is also very different in the San Francisco Bay Area compared to the climate in Mobile. The Bay Area has a Mediterranean type climate with rainy cold weather seasons contrasting with dry, mild warm weather seasons. Mobile on the other hand has short cold weather seasons along with long, hot, humid warm weather seasons.

Networking with other more experienced growers can greatly improve our chances for success. I visited the Mobile County Extension a few weeks ago and got some information that I hope will help improve my chances for success in growing my fall and winter vegetables this year.

I prefer to grow organically without the use of chemical fertilizers. The literature from the Mobile County Extension advised me that most organic fertilizers tend to be rich in Phosphorous and low in Nitrogen. This can be a problem. Most plants use five times more nitrogen than phosphorous. This means I might have to use more organic fertilizer to make up for the lack of nitrogen. Using a fertilizer that is rich in phosphorous but low in nitrogen can lead to excess phosphorous that is not used by the plants causing problems such as nutritional deficits for the plants and water contamination. Excessive nutrients from fertilizer not used by plants has the potential to run off into water sources and pollute the water. The unused nutrients from the fertilizer feeds algae in the water. The algae uses up the oxygen in the water making the water unfavorable for fish and other animals that live in the water.

Last year, I made the mistake of not using any fertilizer at all, relying solely on homemade compost from debris in my yard. This year, I have decided to use an organic fish emulsion fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen and low in phosphorous and potassium.

Growing in the cool weather months can present a few challenges, but fortunately, there are quite a few vegetables that grow and some that will even thrive in cool weather! Collards, kale, lettuce, and turnips typically grow well in cool weather. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and cauliflower are also cool weather veggies. Identifying your Plant Hardiness Zone, determining the average dates of the first and last frost, following seed planting instructions, and networking with other growers in your area can help improve your chances for success.

I started my fall garden with the collard seeds demonstrated in our late September Healthy Green Thumbs video. Since then, I have sown some carrot and Brussels sprouts seeds. On a final note, I will attest as a parent, growing cool weather vegetables can be a fun activity to enjoy outdoors with children. Growing cool weather vegetables can be an opportunity to introduce children to new vegetables as well as a way of teaching a sense of responsibility. Evidence shows that children who grow fruits and vegetables will increase their intake of fruits and vegetables. Many health organizations recommend increasing our fruit and vegetable intake as a means of reducing our risk for diseases such as cancer.

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