Planning the Autumn Vegetable Garden
By Glenn I. Teves, UH CTAHR County Extension Agent
We grow a garden on Molokai for many reasons. For some, it’s about having ready access to the freshest, healthiest fruits and vegetables in these challenging times, while for others it’s about teaching our children how to grow food and enhance their appreciation for the bounties of our island.
As we leave the dog days of summer to a cooler transition, a new planting season opens to us. We’re blessed with cooler days and nights in autumn when many vegetables thrive. The Autumn Equinox occurs on Sept. 21 with the days are the same length as the night as the days become shorter all the way to the Winter Solstice, Dec. 21, the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year at 11 hours.
This is the best time of the year to grow a garden as many vegetables favor cooler weather and shorter days. We have many crops to choose from including root crops, leafy vegetables, mustards, beans and peas, and even some of the fruiting vegetables common in summer. Carrots, radish, daikon, beets and other roots flourish in cooler weather if the soil is well prepared and not compacted. Constantly working on compost is one way to prevent the soil from cementing itself together and creating a hard pan.
Leafy vegetables, including lettuce, arugula, spinach, chard, basil, cilantro and others enjoy the cooler weather when the heat doesn’t create bitter leaves and early flowering or bolting. The mustards or cole crops, a large group of super nutritious vegetables including cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale are tastier and some will flower more fully in this cool season as well as Chinese mustards Kai Choy, Pak Choy, Won Bok, and Choy Sum. Winter-loving legumes include pole and bush green beans, snow peas, and snap peas. The ‘meat’ of the vegetable kingdom, beans and peas are important sources of protein found mostly in meats. Local varieties of sweet corn, including Hawaiian Supersweet #9 and #10 will produce beautiful ears when many mainland varieties are stunted.
The lowland “banana belt” of Molokai can grow a wider array of vegetables during this season due to its warmer weather conditions with cool nights. In addition to cool season vegetables, calabaza and kabocha squash, hyotan or green squash, taro, wing bean, okra, long bean and bittermelon, as well as eggplant, tomatoes and peppers will thrive. This is a good time to sow seeds of these crops. Peppers, eggplants and peppers planted in early September will be ready to harvest before Thanksgiving.
A challenge for many gardeners is sowing seeds since many plant seeds too deep. Large seeds and root crops can be sown directly in the ground, while smaller seeds and fruit crops are usually sown in trays then transplanted. A rule of thumb is to sow seeds three times its diameter, but for very small seeds it may be better not to cover them and just water or shake them into the potting mix. Sowing seeds well before the cold months of November and December will give them a better chance of establishing a strong root system and frame before maturing. Tomorrow’s harvest starts by sowing your seeds today. Happy gardening!