A warm, late fall on the Vineyard means a whole other growing season
The Second Harvest
by Susie Middleton
Frost—it’s the end of the line for most vegetables in our gardens. Around here, we have such a long, warm, beautiful fall that our average frost doesn’t happen until Halloween. So why would we want to think about frost in August? Because it’s the perfect time to replant. With Halloween still more than 100 days away, we’ve got just the right amount of time left to get more vegetables in the ground—even grow them from seed—and set the stage for harvesting from our own gardens long after the hot, crazy days of summer have slipped into the graceful pace of fall. We’ve got a second chance.
“I ate my last tomato on Thanksgiving last year,” Melinda Rabbitt DeFeo told me. “It was an heirloom—bright orange; we actually had a whole platter of them sliced up.” Melinda, who calls herself a food and agricultural advocate, and has worked for Polly Hill Arboretum, the FARM Institute, and as the enrichment coordinator for Island Grown Schools, told me that there’s nothing to stop us from planting another round of vegetables in August. Knowing first what our approximate frost date is, all we have to do then is back up from that date and mark our calendars. By considering which vegetables mature in about 30, 60, and 90 days (see the chart at right), we can plan for a fall harvest—or a few fall harvests—and plant accordingly. And if we want to extend the season even further, we can consider ways of protecting root crops from frost and harvesting them in early winter. There are, however, a few challenges to planting now. First, seeds can be a little hard to find, though if you aren’t particular about varieties, you can still find at least one option of most major vegetables at Island nurseries and even in grocery stores. You can also still mail-order from Johnny’s or another seed source and have what you need in a week. If you’re lucky, you didn’t use the entire pack (or all the packs) of carrot or beet or spinach seeds you bought earlier in the summer, and you’ve still got some left. Next year, plan to buy all the seeds you’ll need for a few successive plantings at the beginning of the summer. I say successive, because some vegetables can be planted not just twice in a summer, but every few weeks. It takes careful planning to manage so many plantings, so for many home gardeners, thinking in terms of just two plantings keeps things simpler. The second challenge to planting now is that the Halloween frost date is really just an average, because the Vineyard has microclimates. If you live to the south of the airport in West Tisbury, you are only too aware of how much colder it is there than in downtown Vineyard Haven. Melinda estimates that the Vineyard Haven growing season may be as much as four weeks longer (two weeks at the start and at the end) than other places on the Island. There are also frost “valleys” where the frost tends to settle. On the other hand, if you live near the shore, you might actually have a later frost date, as wind tends to keep frost from settling on plants. Raised beds are a benefit, too, as frost will tend to settle below them. A good way to estimate your frost date is to check with your neighbors. You could be a bit conservative, too, but if you take a little risk, you might be rewarded.
According to Melinda, it’s okay, in general, to replant a second crop of the same vegetable in the same spot the first crop grew. However, it’s best to be wary of vegetables in the Solanaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant) and Cucurbita family (all squashes), which are prone to fungal disease, as it spreads easily. This is especially important this year because there is a tomato blight raging up and down the East Coast. Any sign of fungus, and you should remove and discard plants (do not compost them), and not plan to replant in that soil this summer. Of course, if you can rotate beds, do so, as different vegetables take different nutrients from soil. The rest is as simple as ripping up a few weeds and the bolted lettuce, and maybe folding a little compost into your soil. Now your beds are ready for round two.