By Julie Olson
Midsummer is a great time to start planning the fall vegetable garden.
Draw the garden to scale in air-conditioned comfort. A crowed garden won’t yield or grow to potential.
Plant spacing recommendations
Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts: Rows 30 inches wide, plants spaced 20 inches apart
Leafy greens like lettuce, chard and kale: 20-inch rows with 5-6-inch plant spacing
Radishes and spinach: 20-inch rows
Peas: 2-3 inches apart if grown on a fence or trellis to provide more garden space
Selecting seed varieties is a fun part of gardening. Check the days to maturity on the packet. The desert season is shorter than normal, so quicker-maturing vegetables are better. Make copies of the seed packet information for later reference.
After drawing the garden plot and deciding what to plant, the next step is removing dead plants and debris. The soil may need amendments of fertilizer and compost if a summer garden was grown. September is a good time to start planting seeds as they like warm soil for germination. If using transplants, wait three to four weeks. Irrigation lines should also be checked and repaired. Watering problems are much easier to fix before planting.
Plants and seeds need to be protected from birds and ground squirrels. It`s very discouraging to find a row of holes where peas were planted. Birds will also eat tender new leaves and stems. A light-weight row cover or netting may be needed. Netting should be high enough to prevent birds from poking through to the plants.
Check daily for insect problems. A strong spray of water on the leaf undersides will knock off aphids. Insecticidal soaps will control many pests. Companion planting is another pest control. Onions and garlic help protect broccoli and cabbage from cabbage loopers which eat three times their weight every day.
Weeds are another garden pest that steal water and nutrients, crowd out and shade vegetables. Don`t forget to mark the rows. Plastic knives with plant names written on them make good row markers.
By mid-October radishes and other short-season crops can be harvested. Vegetables harvested at their peak are most nutritious.
Cut the first leaves of swiss chard when 4 to 6 inches, let the next ones grow 6 to 8 inches. Harvest greens when young and dark green for best flavor. Old leaves will become bitter. Pick broccoli when heads are dark blue green and compact. Cabbage should be firm, crisp and rich green in color.
Enjoy fall vegetables through January and February, then it`s time to plant for summer.
Julie Olson is a Master Gardener and Maricopa resident.
This column appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.