STARTING THE SUSTAINABLE FARM: Planting the Fall Garden (25 member CSA)

We are busy this time of year (July), preparing new fields and planning for our fall planting. One of the challenges is the dry soil during this time of the year which makes any bed preparation a major challenge. When you receive any amount of rain, you need to be prepared to work the soil. One advantage that you have is that it is easier to eliminate Bermuda grass if you can lightly till or disk the area regularly, every other week, which finally exhausts the noxious weed in preparation for fall planting.

After testing the soil, we generally fertilize a new one acre field with 100lbs. dried molasses, 50 lbs. Humate and 600lbs, cotton seed meal (or whatever is economically/locally available) as early as possible when we prepare the field. To simplify things, each bed is 4 feet wide and 100 feet long. Two to four weeks before we are ready to plant, we like to have the beds prepared with 10lbs. colloidal rock phosphate and 10lbs. organic fertilizer (there are many name brands out there, or you can use feather meal, poultry manure, etc…)

Fall Tomatoes and Peppers (June-July): By July we start our final crop of tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse. Be prepared to protect them in the field from the first fall frost in mid-Nov, and you might have a harvest past the New Year. We choose early producing varieties like Early Girl, Valley Girl and sweet peppers that can add to our fall shares. Be prepared to transplant into the field after 6 weeks from starting. You will not have the major crop as you did in the spring/summer but still plan for 200 tomatoes and 200 sweet peppers, about 3 beds total. If you think a hard frost might take the crop, go out and harvest all you can. We have had tomatoes ripen almost a month later, or offer green tomatoes or tomato relish. Come up with something. You need to turn lemon into lemonade.

Squash, Zucchini, Cucumbers (Aug-Sept): Direct seed at least one bed of each. You can plan on harvesting beginning 6 to 7 weeks from sowing and should choose early varieties. It helps to cover the new beds with a light frost cloth until the plants flower; this keeps off the insects and provides a little shade during the extreme heat.

Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and Head Cabbage (Aug): Start these in your greenhouse before mid-Aug. Plan at least 100 plants of each, and 200 of the broccoli. They will be available to your members by late January. Be prepared to protect these plants with a light frost cloth to prevent any cosmetic damage during a freeze. Before they set heads, you can harvest their greens which are wonderful. Foliar sprays work well throughout the growing season. We use fish emulsion, molasses and Bt to prevent worm damage before they set heads.

Swiss Chard, Kale, Collards, Mustard, Cauliflower and Chinese Cabbage (Sept.): Start Napa Cabbage, Bok Choi and others in the greenhouse by mid-Sept. and transplant out into the field as early as possible. Swiss Chard can also be direct seeded for baby greens.

Lettuce (Sept-Oct): Choose at least 3 varieties (100 plants each) and start in the greenhouse in Sept. for head lettuce. Lettuce mixes can be directly seeded in four rows down your bed. Repeat a second bed of Lettuce Mix every two weeks throughout Oct. and be prepared to protect with a light frost cloth to keep it looking pretty. Foliar spray with Bt for the worms, but keep the fish emulsion out of the mix on any of these greens to prevent an off flavor.

Beets and Turnips (Sept.-mid Oct): Direct seed a lot of beets and turnips in Sept. to mid-Oct. You can harvest their greens throughout the fall, and thin them out to form beet and turnip roots for the spring. These will be important crops in early spring to add bulk to your shares.

Carrots (Sept.): Direct seed at least 2 beds of carrots in 4 rows in the first part of Sept. Carrots take a few weeks to germinate and need to be kept moist until they emerge. Deep sandy soil produces the best carrots and will be available next spring for your CSA shares.

Onions (Aug – Nov): Start your own onion seed in the greenhouse in late August, or buy onion sets to be put into the fields from Oct – Nov. You can’t plant too many onions for your spring shares. Choose short day varieties like TX 1015, Candy, TX Early White, Grano, Blanco, Yellow Granex and others. Keep moisture consistent until the first evidence of top falling, which is your sign to harvest large onion bulbs. Mulching is a big benefit and fertilizing regularly before bulbing.

Spinach (mid Sept – mid Nov): Spinach has not done well for us, but we still give it a try every year. Direct seed in 3 to 4 rows and thin out to give room to grow. High fertility needs, and good drainage is essential.

Peas (mid Dec): Direct seed English and Sugar Snap peas during the last week of December. We generally do not plant peas any more because of the low yields and high labor to harvest, but members love them when you have them available in early spring. You will need to have at least a whole bed planted to make it worth your time.

Leeks and Bulb Fennel (Aug-Sept.): Start your transplants in the greenhouse in late Aug. and put into the field as early as possible in Oct. Mulching is a big benefit as these plants grow all winter for your spring shares. One bed of each should be plenty, spaced 4 to 6 inches a part.

Fava Beans (mid Sept.-mid Oct.): Fava beans make an excellent cover crop with edible leaves and large pods relished by chefs. Available in late winter, they hold up well unless it gets below 20 degrees. They also make a great habitat for beneficial insects in the early spring.

Herbs (Sept-Oct): Direct seed cilantro, dill, lovage, salad burnet and chamomile by late Sept. when it begins to cool down. Parsley can be started in the greenhouse in early Sept. and transplanted as early as possible. Any perennial herb like rosemary, oregano, sage, lemon grass and others transplant well in the fall as well, when mulched.

Strawberry Plants (Nov.): Start out with no more than 1000 plants. This is where black plastic and straw mulch is a real benefit. Space 8 inches apart in 3 staggered rows down your bed. Be prepared to protect from frosts once the fruit is set with either overhead watering or a heavy frost cloth. Choose “June Bearing” varieties for large marketable fruit like Camarosa, Chandler and Sequoia. Watch for diseases which can be suppressed with foliar sprays including seaweed and neem oil or hydrogen peroxide.

Winter Cover Crops (Oct): Any bare soil or fields that you plan to put into production next spring/summer needs to be planted into a winter cover crop. This will add organic matter, prevent erosion, add nitrogen for the following season, suppress weeds and provide a habitat for beneficial insects. Some plants also provide interest for your CSA shares including pea tendrils and crimson clover bouquets for tea. Our basic one acre cover crop mix for the winter includes crimson clover (10lbs.), Austrian field peas (25lbs.), Vetch (25 lbs.), and oats (50 lbs.). This needs to be worked into the soil when at 80% bloom or before it sets seed, ideally 6 to 8 weeks before you are ready to plant the field for the spring/summer season.