Don’t Fear the Reaping
Garden care tips for autumn
Autumn in Northern Nevada brings crisp mornings, storm clouds and a spectrum of colorful leaves. Despite its appeal, the dramatic and unpredictable weather can be a daunting season for new farmers and gardeners.
“People are intimidated, but they don’t need to be,” said Pawl Hollis, owner of Rail City Garden Center. The flourishing gardens at Rail City ––including summer squash, cabbage, chard, okra and peppers––are a testament to the diverse and succulent produce that thrive during the summer season, but many people are nervous about planting crops when the evenings begin to get chilly in fall.
“It’s the best time to plant,” says Hollis. “The soil doesn’t freeze, and it’s good for root growth and leaf growth.”
Mark O’Farrell, owner of Hungry Mother Organics in Minden, echoes this sentiment: “Some of the year’s best produce is grown during this time.”
According to O’Farrell, it’s important for gardeners to focus on resilient, seasonal plants, rather than try to keep an entire garden flourishing. Some foods, like apples, need a frost to thrive and are most flavorful in autumn. And there’s a reason pumpkins are the icon for fall; squashes are hardy and protected by their tough exteriors. Roots like beets and potatoes pull much of their nutrients from soil, which keeps them shielded from intense weather or hungry critters. O’Farrell says leafy green vegetables like lettuce, spinach, broccoli and carrots also grow well in the colder months.
“We don’t spend too much time trying to save tomatoes or foods like that,” said O’Farrell. “It’s not economically feasible, and there are a lot of other options.”
But even the tough plants need protecting, and Nevada nights can be harsh. O’Farrell recommends investing in covers for a garden or greenhouse to prevent devastating frost damage. Hollis recommends preventative products such as FreezePruf or KDL (potassium dextrose lactose), organic substances that should be sprayed over produce, not put into the soil. With these potassium-based concoctions, vegetables like tomatoes can still survive when temperatures sink as low as 27 degrees. However, protecting against frost is only effective before the cold takes its toll on plants, and chemicals should be sprayed while temperatures are above 55 degrees.
Covering and spraying also protect gardens against unwanted visitors. Varmint such as gophers and moles get into root vegetables, and insects can devour entire plants. “Because we are certified organic, we are limited to trapping,” O’Farrell says of dealing with rodents.
Hollis recommends active investigating to troubleshoot for pests early on. The Center has a microscope that the staff uses to help customers identify insects.
“You have to find out what pests you have to match it up with what solution will be the most effective with the least environmental impact,” Hollis said. Aphids, flea beetles and caterpillars are common bugs that can consume perfectly good fruits and vegetables.
But don’t be discouraged if too many critters are attracted to your blossoming garden; it’s a sign you may be doing something right. “What grows best in the fall and winter are sturdy plants. It’s not necessarily difficult to maintain,” said O’Farrell.
Hollis urges novice gardeners to plan ahead for each season and focus on one plant at a time. “Don’t let it get overwhelming. Start with what you can handle, and you will eventually get the hang of it.”