The Fall Garden, Affectionately Known As "Summer Garden, the Sequel"


Sherry SmithHere it is, the end of summer. My daughter is back to her college classes, and the tropical storms are moving through. The flooding rains have returned, bringing relief to the poor pepper plants I’ve been nursing through the soul-searing heat of summer. Our vegetable garden consists of 4 raised beds that each measure 4 x 8 feet, 1 large raised bed that measures 12 x 32 feet, plus some large pots in which we grow cherry tomatoes. One of our smaller beds is planted with a variety of chiles. We have jalapeños, ghost chiles, island hellfires, brain strains, serranoes, habaneros, and Brazilian rainbow chiles. It’s all about the chiles here. Of course we grow sweet peppers, too, but we do love our homemade salsa (I’ve included a recipe for ghost chili wing sauce below). While peppers love long hot summers, they tend to slow production during the soul-searing heat of our summers. We get early summer harvests, followed by a handful of peppers here and there, followed by a heavier fall harvest … if the poor plants don’t burn.

While a good portion of the country is busy preserving their summer harvest, we are planning our fall garden. With the benefit of being able to garden year-round, we actually have 4 gardens per year, one for each season. Right now, we’re beginning preparations for our fall garden. Obviously, anyone can grow a fall garden, but ours is just a second summer garden. We don’t experience any frosts until late November, if any at all before our bout of winter weather begins at the end of January, so we grow a second summer garden. We’ve filled our pantry with jams, jellies, preserves, tomato sauce, salsa, pickles, relishes, and tomatoes with chiles. Our freezer is stocked with corn, green beans, Southern peas, and pumpkin purée (can’t wait for holiday baking season!). The onions and garlic are cured and put away. We’re cleaning out the garden beds between storms, chopping up plants to work back into the soil. While the rain comes down, we sit down and plan our next garden.


Summer 2016 harvest

My husband and I work as a team. He claims I’m the expert while he’s the manual labor. Don’t believe it, though. My version is a little closer to reality. I’m the dreamer, and he’s the realist. The problem with planning a garden with a horticulture major (plant nerd!) is that I want to grow EVERYTHING! His job is to keep me in check. As for the manual labor, I’d say that’s both of us, equally. I haul rocks and dirt just as much as he does. In any case, seed catalogs are my favorite mail, aside from the seeds themselves. Our planning sessions are usually quite entertaining. First, we make a list of the things we want to grow. Next, we look at various varieties of those crops and see how many days to harvest. If it’s less than 90 days, we’re good. We plant our fall garden in September and our winter garden in December … 90 days. So, once we pick out the varieties we want to grow, we decide where we’ll plant them. We use a modified version of square-foot gardening, so I have an excel spreadsheet with our garden beds blocked out on it. We use that as a planning diagram.

Once we have everything plotted out, I begin leafing through the catalogs. That’s when we have issues. It usually goes something like this:

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