When the thermometer is hovering around 100 degrees, and the tomatoes aren't even ripe, it seems strange to think about fall gardening. But this is the time to do just that.
Hot weather makes me feel wilted, and I'd like to follow the example of what my tomatoes do on hot afternoons — just curl my leaves to conserve moisture. Instead, I'll get a glass of iced tea, find a shady spot and think ahead to cooler weather.
Bush beans and carrots are especially on my mind. I plant my bush beans in July, thus avoiding bean-blossom drop that is caused by high temperatures. Knowing that our average date for first frost in the Rogue Valley is Oct. 19, I consult the seed packet to see what the timing needs to be so that these frost-sensitive plants don't get nipped in the fall.
While I'm currently enjoying fresh carrots from my first planting, I've learned that late July is the time to plant carrots for fall and winter. If I plant them later than that, they do not reach full size by the time the days shorten and the weather cools. Some of my favorite late-season carrots include Yaya, Nelson and, for overwintering, Merida.
Carrots can be tricky here, but here are a few things I've learned. Because the seeds have a very hard seed coat, soaking them overnight helps. Drain, then spread them on a paper towel to dry the surface before planting.
Using your index and middle fingers, make shallow dents in the moist soil about 2 inches apart in all directions. This band, or square-foot method, almost eliminates the thinning task. After dropping two seeds in each dent, cover with wet coir (coconut fiber).
Carrot seed must be kept moist until the seedlings come up, and coir holds moisture better than anything else I've used. As added protection, I cover the entire carrot bed with wet burlap or several layers of newspaper and moisten it daily. This should be removed when the grass-like sprouts emerge.
Once the carrots are up, use scissors to remove one of the two sprouted seeds, if they both germinated. Do not skimp on water during the growing season. Carrots grow best in loose, moist soil.
Beets and kohlrabi can be direct-seeded now, using basically the same method as for carrots. Other kohl crops, such as broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts, can be started from seed now, too. However, they don't germinate well in soil that's too warm, so plan to start them indoors and transplant them into the garden later.
When day-length shortens, it will be time to plant your fall crop of spinach and lettuce. If you choose a cold-resistant lettuce and give it some protection over the winter, it will provide you with greens nearly all winter. Spinach is surprisingly hardy, as well.
The longer I live in the Rogue Valley, the more I lean toward fall and winter gardening, mostly because there are fewer insect problems.
Coming up: Christie Mackison of Shooting Star Nursery will explain why "This is NOT the Pacific Northwest" as she teaches about drought-resistant plants. The class will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, July 18, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, in Central Point. The cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371 to register.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.