Ask the Permie Pro

By Dick Pierce 

Dear Permie Pro,
Q: We are fairly experienced gardeners, but new to Austin. We’ve heard that Austin is great for fall gardening. Sounds like fun. Can you help us get started? 

Thanks,
Excited and Ready to Dig In

A: Dear Excited,
I’m glad you’re ready because September is planting time for Austin’s unique fall gardening season! It’s a special time for both gardens and gardeners. Tomatoes, squash, lettuces and greens love the cooler nights and, eventually, the cooler days. The season runs to our first frost, usually around November 7. Here are a few tips to get you started:

• Check the Austin Organic Gardeners’ planting calendar at main.org/aog/plantcal.htm for fall veggie options. Tomatoes won’t be listed, but don’t despair!

Tomatoes do just fine in a fall garden as long as you use starter plants—there’s not enough time for the plants to grow from seeds.

• Check the back of seed packets and the markers found with young plants for their “number of days to harvest.” If you can’t locate the information, ask the nursery. You only have approximately 50–70 days before frost, so buy 56–60 day tomatoes and other veggies. There are many varieties, so be sure to look carefully.

• Plant seeds and starter plants as soon as you can—like yesterday. The faster they’re planted, the more time you’ll have for harvesting. In general, it’s better to buy starter plants than seeds, as veggies will set and ripen sooner, giving you a longer harvest.

• Compost, mulch and feed a little more than usual, and water regularly and deeply. This is a short season, so help the plants grow and fruit as well and as fast as possible.

• Get “season extenders” (row cover from a nursery, old blankets, etc.) ready, as well as stakes to hold them up and away from the plants. Be prepared to throw them over the plants on nights when frost is predicted. Some of the plants can stand a short or light frost, but none of them like it.

I hope all of the above sounds simple and straightforward, because it is! But also consider some basic training for gardening in Austin’s unique climes. Citizen Gardener offers 10 hours of invaluable hands-on training right when you need it most—the planting season! A new class starts every Saturday in September. Classes are $50, but the fee is waived once 10 hours of volunteer time are completed. Please see citizengardener.ning.com or dickpiercedesigns.com for details.

Dick Pierce’s Permaculture Design Course runs September 26 through November 14. For more info, see Dick Pierce Designs or the Austin Permaculture Guild..