Planting the Fall Garden

This post is a little over due, that is if you are following my garden advice, but not to worry it is not too late to plant your fall crops.  The past couple of weeks have been busy around here and it seems any garden time I have is going to preserving rather than planting.  But in this high desert garden spring and fall are optimal time for planting and reaping.  The cool weather and rains that the ‘shoulder seasons’ provide are great for greens, roots and many herbs.  Come late July and early August I fill in all those nooks and crannies that have been opened up by summer harvests with all kinds of leafy goodies. For example the garlic bed dug in July is now sprouting with fall lettuce and the potato bed will soon follow with more salad greens.  Sometimes you can even plant among big shady things in the heat of the summer if you know they will be coming out soon enough to give over the light and nutrients to the little guys, this is what they call using a nurse crop.  I harvest my broccoli,  move the irrigation over just a couple of inches and plant spinach.  In a couple of weeks the spinach will have germinated, the brocoli be done and ready to pull out( I actually just cut it off at the base and leave the root as to not disturb the bed too much, when forking happens in spring they will all come out).  When using a bed continuously it does require some top-dressing of compost, but there really is no need to re-dig the whole bed.  Just scratching where you want to seeds and covering them with a light layer of compost should do the trick.

When choosing crops for fall just think of cool season crops and do a little math.  Any good seed packet will say ‘Days to Maturity’ for you crop and variety.  If you figure the last frost date in Santa Fe is October 15th– that is about 60 days from now…so most lettuces are 60-70days to maturity (keep in mind, many people eat lettuce as baby leaves & surely don’t wait 60 days)  Also keep in mind that even if you have some crops that aren’t big enough to eat when the first frost does come, covering crops with cold frames, hoops and row cover and even blankets for the night protects them well and will buy you soon time.  Here in the high desert it takes a while to really have consecutive killing frosts to take a crop down.  Many people, myself included have kale for Christmas (the cold air makes it sweeter!!)

You may also want to keep in mind soil temperature, as that matters more than air temperature for seed germination.  It is more crucial in the spring when the soil is simply too cold to get good germination, but I have also heard if the soil is too hot, cool seasons seeds can have a hard time germinating as well. (Though truthfully I haven’t run into that yet)

This chart was borrowed from CASFS where I studied Ecological Agriculture and they Adapted it from UC Davis Vegetable Research and Information Center’s Seed Germination Temperatures chart (
Vegetable   Optimal Soil Temp for Germination   Days to Germinate

Bean, snap                        75 – 80                                    7
Bean, lima                         85                                             7 – 10
Beet                                    75                                              7 – 14
Broccoli                             75                                              7
Cabbage, heading            68 – 75                                    5 – 10
Carrot                                 75                                             12 – 14
Cauliflower                        68 – 86                                   5 – 10
Celery                                 68 – 76                                   10 – 14
Collard                               68 – 76                                    4 – 10
Corn                                    70 – 86                                   7 – 10
Cucumber                          70 – 86                                   7 – 10
Eggplant                             70 – 86                                   10
Endive                                 68 –75                                    10 – 14
Kale                                      68 – 75                                   5 – 10
Leek                                     68 – 70                                   10 – 14
Lettuce                                68 –70                                     7 –10
Melon                                  80 –86                                    4 – 10
Mustard Greens                68 – 70                                    5 – 10
Onion                                  68 – 70                                   10 – 14
Onion, bunching               60 – 68                                   10 – 14
Parsley                                65 – 70                                     11 – 28
Parsnip                               68 – 70                                    14 – 21
Pea                                       65 – 70                                     7 –14
Pepper                                 75 – 85                                     10
Pumpkin                             68 –75                                      7 – 10
Radish                                 65 – 70                                     5 – 7
Spinach                               68 – 70                                     7 – 14
Squash, summer               70 – 85                                     7 – 14
Squash, winter                   70 – 85                                    7 – 14
Tomato                                75 – 80                                    7 – 14
Turnip                                  65 – 70                                     7 – 14

Now if you like charts there is a great one Eliot Coleman has in the back of his book, Four Season Harvest on when to sow fall plantings.

Which I believe they have at the library, which I guarantee if you read the whole thing you will need no advice from me!!

Wow that was a lot of information, but when it is all said and done you could just do what I do; scratch some dirt, throw in some cilantro, lettuce, spinach, dill, arugula, mache, carrot, turnip, beet, kale and chard, cover with compost and call it a day!! Don’t forget to leave a little open space for the October garlic planting, oh, and pray for more rain!!

Here are a few links if you would like to learn more

Home Grown New Mexico

Sow True

Mother Earth News

Organic Gardening

Ten Transplanting Tips

Little guys ready to go outside

So when I started gardening in Santa Fe the last frost date was May 15th….this year however it was more like April 15th!! Crazy….But I am still cautious of putting my little starts outside and if you too have waited, dotting over those tiny creatures in your window sill as I have, or worked hard to make money to buy those babies….you want to make sure they have a good strong transition into the great wide open wilderness of your garden from the climate controlled nest from which they are pushed.  So as you prepare for the final transplant, here are a few tips to help those babies along.

Just right

#1-SIZE DOES MATTER– Though it may be transplanting time, are your plants ready to transplant is a really good question to ask – Plants do have an optimum size for transplanting– if it is too big the root to shoot ratio will be way out of proportion and the roots will be circling in the bottom of the pot or the top growth toppling over, many more times higher than the depth of the pot.  In this case plant ASAP and you can also do a little root stimulation to break those pot bound roots out of their tangle, even trimming roots if necessary and prune back the top foliage.  If you haven’t purchased plants yet– please don’t buy things that seem top heavy, and though is pretty, NEVER buy something in flower or fruit stage.  If it is flowering in a pot it is probably stressed and will continue to be in your garden.  Most thing will tolerate a little pruning back, if it is an annual crop and few clean pinches with clean finger nails should do the trick.

Now If a plant is too small–If a plant is too small for transplanting it will not yet have it’s second set of true leaves and seem very tender.

This Basil is too small…It only has it’s Cotyledons (first growth) and one set of true leaves. Better to wait until it looks more like ….

These Basils are getting second sets of true leaves, much better time to transplant, the one my finger is on is too small, see the difference

Adequate ‘root knit’ is also a sign your plant is ready, meaning the roots hold the soil(at appropriate moisture, see below) when removed from the pot. Root to Shoot ratio means that the plants has equal root and vegetation growth.

This guy has good root knit- the roots hold in the soil when the soil is moist to the touch

Here is it’s foliage, in balance with the root growth inside the pot

#2-HARDENING OFF- is a process of transitioning your plants from inside to outside taking anywhere from 3-25 days.  You can begin bringing the plants out for a couple of hours each day in a nice shady, cool spot.  Then maybe a few more hours adding direct sunlight, even placing them where you might plant them.  Remember, plants in pots dry out quicker than those in the ground, so keep an eye on them so they don’t dry out.  Little by little, lengthen the days and then add few nights.  Once they have spent a few night outside their cell walls should be acclimated, and hardened enough to be planted in your garden. If you don’t have time to harden things off, see below for ways to protect them in harsh conditions after planting in TAKE COVER.

#3-MOISTURE LEVEL– You don’t want the soil in you pots to be dry and crumbly, nor just watered and thus muddy,  moist to the touch, but not wet.  The best bet is water well in the morning and plant in the evening.  Your roots should hold the soil together enough so that you are planting a soil mass and not bare roots.

Hard to tell moisture form a picture, but about like this

#4-SPACING-You will have in mind how far apart you plants should, be but sometimes you are so eager to get them in the ground you end up with a mess.  I like to mark out my rows with string, that way as I am planting I just plant along the string and measure with my trowel according the to space I want.

Strings strung to keep a straight line when digging trench and planting potatoes

You can also, as a school garden teacher passed on, measure and mark every spot with a popsicle stick, before you plant, that way you get to plant twice!  Exciting if you are a kid gardener.  You can of course plant here and there and everywhere, but keep in mind how big your plants will get when planting, they look little now but just wait till September!! Also irrigation lines, if you are adding them, are linear and can only bend so much, so laying the lines and then planting where the water drips out is a perfect way to get it right.

#5- TIME OF DAY-Think cool and crisp.  I like to transplant in the evening, so peaceful and lovely….some prefer early morning..Or during the day when the shade hits your garden..When ever you choose, try to make sure it is Cool, crisp and the plants will not be in direct sunlight very long.  These days we have had some clouds rolling in and that is perfect for transplanting.

#6- WIND PROTECTION– Spring winds can be fierce and take a toll on young plants, especially those that have never experienced it before inside.  You can’t always predict or work around the winds in spring, but you can protect your plants in a few ways.

Glass Cloche for sale in Italy

Homemade Cloches (glass covers for plants) work well.  Just cut a plastic bottles bottom off and place over the plant after transplanting.  You can leave it on for a week or so until you notice the plant has really taken hold and is showing new growth.

Bottle over a transplant creates a mini greenhouse

You can also add floating row cover for protection from wind, bird, bug, etc…This is basically making a mini hoop house over your bed with wire hoops and woven fabric.  I believe the Row cover is sold by the yard at Plants of the Southwest and the wire is 19 gauge wire you buy in rolls at the hardware store, I found mine at Lowe’s in the back of the garden section with the fencing supplies.  I fasten the cover to the hoops with clothes pins and pile dirt or rocks where it meets the ground.  If the wind gets underneath it, it will take off like a sail. Here is a video on Using Row Covers from Johnny’s Seed Co to get the full idea.

#7- WATER-Water well, really well- The soil into which you plant should be pre-moisten, not a mud hole, but moist.  I like to water the morning before transplanting, so the soil has a bit of time to absorb the water.  If you can’t do that go ahead and water first, then plant.  Once your plant is in the ground, water the plant daily, or twice daily, for about a week until you see it thriving, then you can taper off down your irrigation schedule.  If you are using a cloche, it does create a mini greenhouse so make sure the plant stays moist in there.

#8- DEPTH-Pretty intuitive, but do make sure you plant your plant at the same soil level as it was in the pot.  You can make a little moat around your plant too so that the water will pool around it and not runoff, but seep in slowly around the roots.

Little moat helps catch water

#9- FERTIGATE– Meaning add liquid fertilizer to a watering can, and give a little to each transplant.  This vitamin boost will help them along in the transition.  I use Super thrive and liquid seaweed or Kelp Extract.  Remember a little goes and long way!! (dilution recommendations are on the bottles)

ORGANIC Liquid fertilizers

#10-WHO TO TRANSPLANT— Every seed packet comes with a recommendation for your plants, but in the case that you inherited all home saved seed and don’t know where to begin.

GENERALLY (there are always exceptions)

I like to transplant ( Heat loving Crops)

Tomatoes, Basil, Peppers, Eggplant, Cabbage, Broccoli,

I like to direct seed ( Large Seeded Crops & Roots)

Large Seeded Crops:  Corn,Beans,Squash

Root Crops: Carrots, Beets, Parsnips, Turnips, Rutabega, Kolrabi, Potato, Radish,

Hearty Crops: Dill, Kale, Chard, Arugula, Leeks

Things that don’t transplant well: Spinach, Cilantro, Peas

Exceptions: Onions (though onion sets are transplanted and do wonderfully here) Lettuce does well direct seeded, though I do transplant lettuce for early crops,

Summer Squash, Melons, and Cucumber are traditionally planted direct seed, but I have had great luck transplanting them.

Growing it with Greywater

A friend came over recently and was astounded by my front garden.  “You must water like crazy!!”  That I do NOT, but there are a few elements that help this garden abound in the spring time.

Lush spring garden green

First I credit the Plants; Edible, Medicinal and Beautiful…This garden is mainly self-sown  (plants that like it here, drop their seed every season, spread and thrive) like Catnip, Clary Sage, Columbine, Lamb’s Quarters, and planted ones like Tarragon, Horse Radish, Yarrow, Mint, Jupiter’s Beard, Loveage, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Valerian, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Day lily, Comfrey, Iris, Bleeding hearts, Hummingbird Sage, Bee Balm, Garlic Chives, Chervil, Ground Geranium and Tulips, Daffodils, Snapdragons, Clover, Poppies, & Rue, to name a few.  The annuals are put in other spots around the yard.

Shady now most of the day

The Sunlight….The garden is in full sun in the spring, until about May 1st, when the trees above it leaf out and create a very shady garden, cooling it in the summer months.

The Time….garden is old, about 10 years of adding compost & mulch makes a big difference in getting it established, enriching the soil and covering up any bare ground, and of course keeping that moisture in!!

And of course the Dishwater.  Yep– year round, every day, sometimes twice a day this garden gets oh,  maybe 4 gallons of dishwater dumped here and there.  I let the days dishes gather, neatly by the sink, organize from cleanest to dirtiest.  When the time comes, either in the quiet of evening or along with morning coffee, but strictly ONCE a day, (who wants to do dishes more than once a day?) I fill up my bins, squirt a little sodium free soap in and wash.  When complete, I dump the bins out the front door and begin the dish gather again.

The basins in the sink get filled once a day and dumped in the garden

The garden soaks it up like sponge and come spring just booms with delight.  I do water it with the hose too, but not very much.  In the hottest days of summer maybe once a week, and from November to April, not at all.  I won’t claim to be a radical water saver myself, but let’s face it, the stuff is sacred, the bearer and giver of all life on the planet, it is not to be wasted, and we each must do more to honor the water we have.

Every Drop a Miracle

A friend of mine, Amanda, is in fact totally radical water keeper, using and reusing only rainwater for herself and her family to drink, bathe, cook, wash, live in the high dry desert.  Totally an inspiration when it comes to, well everything, but we do what we can, as we can…….so little by little I am trying to reuse, conserve, respect and honor our sacred water by dumping it in the garden and watching it grow, and who knows, maybe someday it will turn into, more water!!

Catch every drop

Each Peach, Pear, Plum, I spy….Which one?

The world abounds with blooms right now, no leaves just pure bloom!!….at least where we are (In Northern Colorado), and the bees and I are in heaven.

Bursting with blooms- Nan King Cherry

While my husband teaches (a Permaculture Design Course) babe and I wander the blooms, bathing in their glow, snapping shoots and smelling the fragrant air.  It truly is dreamy, I must say…But oh so interesting as well.  I am sure you have noticed blooms along the road, on forgotten farms and maybe even in your own backyard and wonder Who are they?‘…

Well maybe I can share a few tips for at least narrowing things down.  Plants are identified by their leaves, bark, habits, structure and of course flowers.  All these characteristics are important in truly knowing who you are dealing with.  When I was learning plants someone along the way told me you can do all you want to I.D. a plant but the truth is in the flower…

Can you guess which Rosaceae this is?

So now is the perfect time to figure out just who those blooming guys are.  I won’t go into and thorough Botany lesson, as I am no expert….but here is a great book if you want one.

Botany in a Day- Great resources for teaching yourself Plant Identification

What I can share is some basics…. the trees and shrubs right now that are blooming abundantly are the Stone (ones with big pits) and Pomme (ones with little seeds) fruits, all in the Rose Family.  You can tell because the all have five petals, five sepals and lots of little stamen (the little tiny hairs with pollen at the tips).

Rosaceae is the third-largest plant family. This family includes many ornamental landscape plants, fruits, and berries, including apples, cherries, raspberries, and almonds, characterized by the shape of the hypanthium (the part of the flower where the seeds develop) and by petals in groups of five. Roses are members of the plant genus Rosa.”

Interesting right?  So here are a few Rosaceae that are blooming right now…..


Bloom first, light pink, almost white petals with very rich red pink sepals that are very distinct after petals fall, creating a dark pinkish red glow. They are often bigger than other fruit trees, and even when young have a distinctly tree shape with a few thick branches and the rest smaller

The next to bloom are the Shrub Cherries, which are bushes really, producing clusters of tiny cherries that the birds love– great for hedgerows  and wildlife habitat, & tasty too…these are Nan King Cherries

You can tell this cluster of little flowers will produce a bundle of little berries

Nan King Cherry

Next you have the Pears

Pears have large white blossoms with fewer in a bunch than other blooms right now. Pear trees are often tall and skinny, pruned to have one thick branch at the middle like a christmas tree, called the central leader

Then we have the Peaches and Nectarines (just peaches without the fuzz)

Peaches have super pink blossoms and big round petals

Another Peach, possibly even a Nectarine

then you have the wild plums

Beautiful white flowers that almost look green because of the light green stems. Cluster of many flowers and smell like welches grape juice,truly pungent

Next come the ornamental plums & pears, the tree cherries, apples, strawberries, quinces, raspberries, black berries, and then by June we will have what we all know as the classic roses. Maybe I will document those as the bloom next too, but in the meantime enjoy those gorgeous blooms, many the bees find them and the frost not, may it be a fruitful year!! If you want to plant some Rosacea of your own this year, might I recommend Tooley’s Trees in Truchas, NM. Good folks, Good trees!!