“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” Just mosey out to the garden and snip a couple of tomatoes and cucumbers for supper, perhaps a few fried squash. Nothing better than fresh-from-your-own-garden vegetables. Unless there was no time to plant your garden this spring.
Fortunately, in Oklahoma we have several growing opportunities for vegetables. In fact, historically, right here in the Cherokee Strip Land Outlet fall turnips were what many settlers survived on that first winter! If you don’t like turnips, there are many other fall vegetables that you can plant right now for a cool weather harvest.
If you want to start with some seedlings for vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale or kohlrabi, remember to harden them off a bit first. They need reduced water and exposure to sun for three to five days before transplanting. Many vegetables can also be started as seeds. Seeds will sprout based on the hours of sun, rather than the temperature. These hot days of intense sun in August may be a bit much for these tender newbies, so they need shade when first planted. Additionally, using a drip line or ground irrigation, rather than a sprinkler will help keep the soil temperature a cooler so as not to cook the seeds or roots. Be sure to add a layer of mulch on top of both seeds and seedlings to maintain the moisture and provide another barrier to the intensity of sun and heat.
According to Oklahoma State University Extension Office, many of these plants can be started at the beginning of August. Be sure to provide some shade, such as screen wire strips or shade cloth to cover the rows. This will also moderate soil temperature and moisture. Some vegetables may be started in a seed flat, setting them in small containers for a month and then transplanting them into the garden when the nights are a bit cooler. A few vegetables that benefit from this kind of handling are broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage and leaf lettuce. Other vegetables that grow best by direct seeding into the ground in mid-August are bush beans, Lima beans, beets, carrots, and cucumbers. These will take about two to two and a half months to mature from planting to harvest. Be sure to soak the seeds overnight before planting. Other vegetable seeds that may be planted anytime up until mid-September for fall harvest are green peas, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard, and the Oklahoma staple – turnips. Many of these will be ready to harvest in as early as 50 days, but most will take up to two months.
The best thing about the root vegetables is that many can stay in the ground through a frost. Frost will improve the flavor content for rutabagas, turnips and parsnips. Leafy vegetables such as kale, kohlrabi, collards, leaf lettuce and turnip greens can also be planted in cold frames to extend their growing season past the first frost.
The key to planting a fall vegetable garden is keeping the starter plants cool and hydrated in the late Oklahoma summer heat. Just like people, summertime livin’ can be easy for plants, with shade and a cool drink in hand during that hot part of the day.