Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Two Good Questions

I gave a talk last night at the East Cobb Library; the topic was "Planning a Fall Garden." I am lucky that I get asked to give these talks, because I get to meet more gardeners!

The group that attended asked a lot of good questions, but two particular questions I had never been asked before.

I don't remember the wording of the first one exactly, but it was, essentially, "which of these fall garden crops grows up to be tall?"

This was from a gardener who was being very careful to plant his small garden with the taller plants along the north edge, so they wouldn't shade everything else. He was trying to maximize the sun exposure of his plants.

I looked down the planting guide that I had created and realized that all the plants on my list were short! If I had put Brussels' sprouts on the list, they would have counted as tall, but everything except the broccoli was to be harvested as a leafy green plant that had leaves coming from around the base. Examples from the list: lettuce, cabbage, Swiss chard, kale, collards, beets, turnips, radishes. All short and bunchy!

Another great question was "how much of one plant (of arugula or lettuce, for example) can I harvest at one time?" I'd never thought consciously about it; instead, I have just worked "by feel." I would say that I usually don't harvest more than a quarter of a head of leaf lettuce at one time, and never more than half of the leaves from any one spinach plant, so 1/4 to 1/2 the plant was my answer.


  1. I usually harvest the same amount as you, about 1/4 or a little more. How about parsnips? They can get REALLY tall!

  2. Can you grow parsnips here, esp just south of Atlanta. My DH would love them, but I've gotten conflicting info.

    Also I've seen some suggestions of growing potatoes as a fall crop. If so, when should I plant them. I meant to plant them in Feb, but it was so cold and WET that I never got into the garden then.

  3. Erin, my parsnips only get really tall if I let them shoot up flowering stalks in the spring. The leaves are longer than lettuce and spinach (by quite a bit!) but like all the other plants on the list they come up from a stem that's so short it's almost nonexistent (the growth pattern called "basal rosette"). It is funny to me that so many of the cool weather plants have this exact growth pattern!

  4. Erin, it is good to have my impressions about how much to harvest verified by another gardener. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Owlfan,

    I don't know how well parsnips would do south of Atlanta. I've grown them here, though, so the chance of success exists! When I have grown them, I've had them in the ground before now. The "time to maturity" is very long, and they don't germinate well in high temperatures. This year the early summer was so hot that I never put mine in the garden. Other years, even with heavy clay soil, we've harvested small batches of parsnips in February, when not much else is coming from the garden.

    For fall potatoes, planting time depends somewhat on the variety of potato. No potatoes are going to like being outside in the heat of August and early September, but Red Pontiac and Red Lasoda do better in the South than many varieties, so I would start with one of those. They are the typical grocery store red potatoes. Those will have a time to maturity of 70-or-so days, so they should go in by about the middle of August.

    The only time I planted fall potatoes, it was in pots, which was a mistake. The pots got too hot, I think, for good production. I also used fingerling potatoes that really prefer a cooler climate. I did get some potatoes, but not as many as from my early summer harvest of Red Pontiacs.

    One of the hardest parts of planting fall potatoes is finding seed potatoes that will sprout. After potatoes are harvested, they won't send up sprouts right away (in most cases); if the seed potatoes you choose are too freshly harvested, they won't sprout in time to grow into mature plants. (I'm assuming that you are going to get your seed potatoes from the organic section of a grocery store...) I hope you'll post on your blog what you decide to do, and post the progress of your plants!

  6. I didn't even think about that - parsnips get huge and grow well up north, but you are pretty far south! I haven't tried them yet here in VA, but they can get out of control up north.

  7. Thanks for the info on fall potatoes. I still don't know if I'll actually try them - or if I'll have space in the garden then, but if so, I'll try to remember to put on my (long neglected) blog.


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