A Quick and Easy Fall Garden

Fall is here, and that means it’s time to plant a cool season garden. Fall and winter gardens allow for a wide range of crops to be grown, and some of these crops are ready to harvest much faster than others. A garden doesn’t always have to take the whole season to harvest, or require a lot of effort.

Fast-growing crops offer many advantages that slow-growing crops lack. They take much less time to grow, which means it takes much less physical effort to tend to the garden. A quick development time can also reduce disease and pest pressure. Also, if the harvest fails for any reason, these crops can be replanted before the end of the cool season. Fast-growing crops can also be planted in phases, allowing a steady supply of crops ready for harvest.

Plant growth can be accelerated when all plant needs are consistently met. The only source of energy for plants will come from sunlight. Make sure you get a garden bed in a location that has access to at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. The direction of sunlight can change dramatically throughout the year, so be sure to account for seasonal changes. It is also helpful to have a well-drained site near a water source. A soil sample can be taken to determine the pH and nutrients present, and how many nutrients may be needed for the next crop. Soil pH is an important variable because it can affect the availability of nutrients that can be taken up by plants. If the soil pH is below 5.5, lime can be added, as determined by the results of the soil sample, to raise the pH to around 6.0. Adding lime is best up to three months before planting. Mix with compost before or at the time of planting. Fertilizers can be applied at planting time as well as light applications several times during plant growth. Leafy green plants respond well to nitrogen applications. Seed depth and spacing are determined by the specific needs of the crop. After the seeds are planted, it is extremely important that the soil remains constantly moist. Soil that is too dry or that stays wet can result in the loss of the entire crop. Light, frequent irrigation is usually the best option and can be assisted by using automatic irrigation timers.

The link to the garden soil sample form is at bit.ly/soilsampleform.

Radishes are perhaps the fastest growing garden plants. They can go from seed germination to harvest in as little as 20-30 days. Radishes tend to have a less peppery flavor the younger they are, so how long they stay in the ground depends on the gardener’s preference. Many leafy greens can grow quickly, and individual leaves can be harvested over time – or the entire plant. Here is a short list of some common fall garden plants and their days until harvest: lettuce, 60 to 90 days; mustards, 40 to 50 days; lots of oriental greens, kale and arugula, 50-70 days; turnips, 40 to 60 days; spinach, 45 to 60 days; beets, 50 to 70 days; green onions, 50 to 75 days; English and snow peas, 60 to 80 days; strawberries, 30-60 days if planted from plugs; and Swiss chard, 45 to 60 days.

A garden that provides produce quickly also has the option of being planted a second time before spring. If double cropping during the cool season is the goal, be sure to rotate to unrelated plants or use a new location in a garden. This reduces the risk of transmitting pests and pathogens to the second crop. A quick and easy fall garden is a great way to grow food as quickly as possible with as little effort as possible.

For more information, call the Marion County Extension Office at 671-8400 or email [email protected]

– Mark Bailey is the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Extension Officer for UF/IFAS Extension Marion County. The extension service is located at 2232 NE Jacksonville Road, Ocala, FL 34470.