From the Farm: Harvesting Your Fall Garden
Planting a Fall Garden in the South
Though it doesn't feel like it, we are a couple of weeks past the autumnal equinox and it's time to manage our fall garden chores, right? Technically speaking, yes, but if you are going off of the weather and the amount of perspiration you experience on a given day, then you are likely still longing for that crisp fall air. The heat index has not broken any historical records in the last week; however, it wasn’t too far off. The summer heat just seems to carry on longer these days and most of us here in the south have already grown accustomed to it. It’s really not so bad frying your Thanksgiving turkey in shorts and a t-shirt.
Harvesting the Perfect Sweet Potato
This year was a nice summer growing season at the farm despite the heat. We are still picking a variety of field peas and we are working through the last of the okra and peppers. We recently finished digging all of our sweet potatoes and the yields turned out great!
Let's talk briefly about curing sweet potatoes after harvest. If sweet potatoes are cured properly, then they will remain in great condition for many months after being dug. Sweet potatoes are typically going to have scars and breaks caused by the harvesting process (no matter how careful you are). These wounds need to heal properly or disease-producing organisms might work their way into the root. For proper curing to take place, the freshly harvested roots need the right temperature and relative humidity along with adequate ventilation. The ideal curing temperature is 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of around 90 percent. Since most of us don’t have a special curing room that meets these conditions, the best place to cure your sweet potatoes is often outside.
If you are harvesting your sweet potatoes in late summer or early fall, these conditions mirror the weather conditions very closely here in the south. As the wounds heal during the curing process a protective “cork” layer also forms around the entire root. This acts as a protective barrier against decay-causing microorganisms and prevents moisture loss during storage.
We experienced some difficulty when starting our fall seedlings this year. We do not grow our transplants in a climate controlled greenhouse. While we are typically able to produce some great starts, the high temperatures stunted the majority of our collards, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. The majority of our fall starts had to be purchased from an outside source (which is certainly not ideal), but they are all growing quite nicely now. One benefit of the heat this late in the year is that your cruciferous crops get a nice, vigorous jump of initial growth. However, we really need the temperatures to start cooling down at this point so that our cabbage and broccoli can develop nice tight heads.
There's Still Time to Plant Veggies this Fall
I hope everyone is having an enjoyable fall despite the prolonged summer heat. If you haven’t started setting out plants for fall, you still have time. It appears that the first frost will be a little later this year. Go ahead and start seeding your carrots, beets, spinach, lettuces and other faster-maturing greens. If you want to plant longer maturity cool weather crops, then I would suggest buying transplants. Happy growing!
Brad manages our farm operations, which include our certified naturally grown garden outside Madison and the Kelly family’s plantation in Leesburg, Ga, known as Rock House Farm. Rock House Farm produces grass-fed beef, heritage Berkshire hogs, and two varieties of heirloom corn, as well as commercial row crops.