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How to Start Fall Vegetable Seeds
For the most productive cool-season garden (September-March), you need to start your fall vegetable seeds as early as August! Beginning in August can be challenging as we face our hottest and driest weather in the fall. Here are the most valuable tips for you to be successful.
Find a Cool Place to Start Your Fall Vegetable Seeds
Start your fall vegetable seeds in the coolest part of your property. For us, it’s on the northside under the dappled shade of a Jacaranda tree. For you, it may be inside or in a shady area of your property. Cool-season plants like lettuces, broccoli, kales, and cabbages will not thrive in the hot direct fall sun. If you do not have an excellent place to start your seeds, you can drape shade cloth over the area you are using to keep the plants cool.
Use Trays for Bottom Watering
Watering in the hot, dry weather of the fall is critical for your success when starting fall vegetable seeds. The best way to keep your plants watered is to put your seed starting pots in trays of water. Placing your starter pots in a tray of water allows the plants to drink up the water as needed and safeguards against drying out. Do not let the plants sit in water for days. The trays should dry out every 24 hours. Waterlogged soil is just as bad as dry soil! Your fall vegetable seeds should sprout in 7-14 days and should be ready to transplant out as soon as the weather cools and the starts are large and healthy. Use shade cloth or row cover to protect your crops when you plant them out.
Fertilize Fall Vegetable Plants Once You Have Your First Set of True Leaves
Once your fall vegetable seeds have sprouted and have their first set of true leaves, you need to fertilize; this will keep your plants growing large and healthy. The application should be made with a liquid organic fertilizer like fish emulsion. Every time you water, you can fertilize with a diluted amount of fertilizer to ensure your plants are getting enough nutrients. Here are the products we use on our farm and in our garden.
Great Big Tomatoes Compost Tea does so much more than add nutrients to your soil. This product adds essential microbiology to containers, raised beds, and in-ground gardens for happy plants. It helps grow the fungal and bacterial links in soil that are naturally missing, particularly when using bagged soil products. We loved the results from this compost tea so much that we now use it whenever we grow tomatoes, whether in the ground or a container! It works great for peppers too! The idea is simple. Great Big Tomatoes Compost Tea works in the same way that we use probiotics for healthy digestive microbiology. It helps soil thrive with all the organisms we can’t see while making nutrients bioavailable to plants.
Fish Emulsion, a somewhat stinky but oh-so-effective fertilizer, is our go-to in the garden for a host of reasons. We like that it derives from a natural byproduct of the fish industry and helps to use commercial bi-products that would otherwise be wasted. This product is not mined or taken from environmentally fragile areas. Additionally, fish emulsion is very mild, will not burn your plant, and is absorbed by the leaves and roots. This means you can be a bit willy-nilly with applying the fertilizer without concern for burning your plants.
Organic granular fertilizer is essential for adding nutrients back into the soil stripped from gardening over time. We like to use organic fertilizer because it breaks down slowly, will not burn plants, and is less likely to be washed away. We apply granular fertilizers between growing seasons on our farm to replenish what we have taken out.
Avoid Lanky Starts
If your starts begin to look long and lanky, that is a sign they are not getting enough sunlight. Do not let this happen! If you are growing indoors, you will want a supplemental light to ensure your plants get enough UV light. If you are growing outside, this may mean you have to move your plants into a sunnier location. We move our plants into the sun during cool mornings and into the dappled shade during hot afternoons on our farm. It’s a bit of work, but so worth it!
With these tips, we are sure you can be successful at starting your fall vegetable seeds. It’s gratifying to grow your own starts and save tons of money on transplants. Plus, you get the benefit of growing exciting varieties that are only available in seed.