Summer and Fall Food Gardening

Summer Gardening Learning Experience

Summer gardening is wrapping up and I’m starting to look forward to fall planting! I learned quite a bit about what grows in our yard and what challenges I’m up against when trying to grow food.

Future okra

I started some food planting back in April, along with seemingly everyone else in the US. I remember trying to find seeds online and everything was sold out. Luckily I had some seeds from previous seasons and was able to find a few things to supplement.

I got sweet potato slips from Burpee and it’s bananas how much they’ve grown! We got some giant grow bags from Soil3 and used chicken wire to keep the deer out. My husband keeps shoving the vines back into the chicken wire and the lizards have kept the bug damage to a minimum. There have been so many little lizards that yesterday I nearly stepped on one while walking on the deck!

(This is super-gross but over the weekend my husband and kids saw a giant skink munching on a roach outside.)

I kinda dread evicting all the lizard families when I dig these up…

I didn’t have nearly as many problems with deer as I expected but the bugs nearly ate everything. I tried spraying with a solution of castile soap and finally what I found was neem oil. It works alright as long as I remember to spray after it rains.

The green beans did surprisingly well considering I didn’t have any trellis for them. They are also in a chicken wire cage and they’ve made a nice canopy on top and the beans hang down under the canopy. Next year I’m going to plant more beans because they did well considering they didn’t get a ton of sun.

Same with okra – one plant has done well because it got more sun, but the other rallied despite the massive bug damage early on. Next year I’m definitely planting more okra!

Tomatoes – I’ve grown tomatoes every year for probably the last 10 years and this year has given me the most headache. First, I usually buy plants but this year I had to use seeds. I grew the first round in April in toilet paper tubes inside. Somehow they got moldy and the plants never got more than 2 leaves, even outside. Then we had a late freeze. I pulled the transplants and started over with seeds outside. I got the 4 plants I needed but by then it was getting late in the season. In a normal year, I’d be getting tomatoes by June. This year I was still trying to grow and I don’t think I got any tomatoes until mid-July. The plants are 8 feet tall (no lie) and my stakes are only maybe 5 feet. The containers are on wheels so I turned the plants to lean into each other for support. Recently one of the plants just up and died, which has never happened before. The bottom of the plant dried out like a stick. I pulled the whole thing up because I didn’t want it to infect the remaining plants. There are a bunch of green tomatoes and it’s still flowering. I don’t want tomato season to end, but eventually I’m going to need that space.

Peppers – I didn’t have high hopes because I used seeds saved from plants, not ones purchased. They sprouted quickly enough but bugs or slugs really enjoyed eating entire plants overnight. I’d replace them and spray with castile and bugs would just eat them again. I had 2 plants survive and make flowers. I got one mini pepper and the learning experience.

Basil – I usually buy basil plants, but this year I took cuttings from our hydroponic setup and got some plants going. They did okay, except for the bugs. Notice a theme here? I have repotted the best-looking plants and will be bringing them back inside soon.

Moving forward to fall planning and planting!

A few weeks back I learned that Soil3 was having YouTube live classes on fall gardening so I signed up. I learned so much! You can see the classes here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChdv-yyk_ZB99w3vJ4e_OcA

Reading up and planning…

I had most of these seeds from my seed shopping back in April and a couple from my seed box. If you are planning a fall garden and you haven’t started yet, I suggest buying really soon! Garlic was hard to find and if you’re in zone 7, that needs to be planted in October. I found what I wanted between Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Sow True Seeds. Burpee is great but I thought I’d try some smaller seed companies closer to my growing zone.

With what I learned this summer about insect damage and what areas get sun, I’m planning everything out. I’ll actually have more areas getting more sun once the leaves fall, so that’s good. We have a coldframe set up. I learned about Bt in the YouTube class. Neem oil seems to help, too.

I learned that one website will say something about companion planting and then another website will say the complete opposite. I got annoyed with gardening bloggers and decided I need books from people who know what they are talking about. The Grow Great Gardens book was suggested in class and I really like that there’s a book specifically for NC. Sometimes I’d read advice on a blog only to realize they were in a very different growing zone. I also appreciate that there’s a month-by-month breakdown of what I should be doing. I see that I’m already behind on getting started. I’m too late for a couple of things I’d wanted to grow. But I have so many other things that I’m not too disappointed.

The Foodscape Revolution book has a lot of helpful information and the author also lives in North Carolina. Brie Arthur is really into growing edible plants along with flowers to attract pollinators and repel pests such as deer and moles.

Also I can’t not mention Chris Smith, who taught me everything I know about growing garlic and other alliums. Turns out you don’t plant garlic in the spring with everything else! And I’d been planting store-bought softneck garlic at that, which was never going to work. But now I know!

What I’m Growing in Zone 7(b) This Fall:

Started September 1

  • Broccoli – started seeds yesterday in old lettuce containers (the kind you get lettuce blends from at the store – they make nice mini-greenhouses)
  • Kale – same as above
  • Carrots – direct sow yesterday in grow bag
  • Brussels Sprouts – I know this one is going to be a challenge, but started seeds in lettuce container
  • Collard Greens – started seeds yesterday. No idea what I’m doing but I like eating greens!

Starting Soon (seeds I already have):

  • Lettuces – Buttercrunch, Gourmet Blend, Arugula. I’ll start these inside under a grow light and transplant them into the coldframe when it’s not 95 degrees outside.
  • Potatoes – I have some with eyes that I’m going to try to grow just for the vines. As I understand it, deer won’t mess with the vines so maybe it’ll help keep them away? No big loss if this doesn’t work out.
  • Bunching Onions – no clue what I’m doing with onion seeds but I’ll put them in with other plants if they grow okay
  • Parsnips – I think I’m too late on these. Womp womp.
  • I also have some other herbs I’ll bring inside and a couple that I’ll plant in the ground and hope they survive the winter, which is supposed to be extra cold. I need to split up some garlic chives and plant them in a more accessible spot.

Seeds and Stuff I ordered:

From Sow True Seed I ordered…

  • Rainbow Blend Carrots
  • Bt pest control
  • A different kind of kale
  • Broccoli because my current seeds are a few years old
  • Leek
  • Romanesco Broccoli
  • Snapdragon seeds
  • Milkweed seed for the spring
  • Oregano seed
  • Crimson Clover cover crop
  • Chives seed

From Southern Exposure Seed Exchange…

  • Hulless Oats – cover crop and just for fun
  • Bush Snap Beans – these grow quickly enough that I hopefully have enough growing time
  • Floating row cover/garden blanket
  • Licorice mint – hopefully will help with deer and other pests
  • Potato Onions
  • Garlic Chives
  • Catnip
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Kohlrabi – I’ve never eaten it but what a cool plant!
  • Cauliflower
  • Shallots
  • Larkspur – for spring and I hear deer hate it
  • Celery
  • Mustard
  • Egyptian Walking Onions

A lot of my order was inspired by the YouTube live class. I had never even heard of Walking Onions or Potato Onions until last weekend. I have spent the last few days absorbed in blogs and books. I am expecting another gardening book today! I have walked the yard looking around and mapping out every possible area I can grow things here and there. I am planning on putting things I want to get to all the time on the deck in containers. Plants I don’t need to get to can go in the grow bags in chicken wire. I have some sunny open areas in the front yard. The back yard has some promising spaces as well.

Are you planting a fall garden? What zone are you in and what are you planting?

*Edit: I completely forgot about the cucumber experiment! Turns out the Spacemaster plants are supposed to be good in containers but they don’t like terra cotta pots. I don’t think keeping them watered enough was even possible. I put them in the cold frame, which is open during the day. They made a zillion flowers and I got exactly one cucumber. Live and learn!