CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For all the fervor and excitement that surrounds planting the vegetable garden in the spring, you would think that home gardeners would be equally excited about growing fall and winter crops.
Sure, there is the appeal of that first, warm, vine-ripened tomato or the first "mess" (I am from Southern West Virginia, after all) of green beans.
But gardening can mean fresh food even beyond the first bite of frost and freeze. Now is the time to start planning and planting for a bountiful autumn garden.
Plants from the spring-planted garden seem to slowly fade before they are taken by frosts and freezes, succumbing to disease, nutrient deficiency and neglect well before their natural expiration date. Gardeners tend to hold on to these plants past their prime, hoping to eke out those last tomatoes despite how miserable the plants may look.
Planting a fall garden also allows gardeners to experience that nice rush of fresh produce during cooler days of autumn. Even more exciting is that some pests and diseases aren't as prevalent in the fall. Fall zucchini and squash, for example, breathe a sigh of relief when they realize squash vine borer infections usually afflict only their earlier planted friends.
There is an amazing array of produce that can be sown or planted this time of year. Turn to the WVU Extension garden calendar or other similar guide to get a sense of the possibilities. Some of the most common things to plant in July for fall harvest are the cole crops -- broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and the like. If you can find transplants or start your own, they can be planted throughout the month. Likewise, some of the greens such as kale, mustard, spinach and Swiss chard, along with beets, carrots and turnips can be sown now through early September for fall and winter harvests.
There are several other crops that are less-common fall garden fare, and they deserve some attention and appreciation for bringing fresh produce past when they are "in season" in the summer garden. Some tomatoes can still be planted in early July, so that older, worn-out tomato plants can be retired gracefully. Beans also can be sown up until about mid-August, and you can also try planting fall peas in August. Cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash will produce a superb fall crop if sown before mid-August.