Start an Ohio victory garden this fall

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By Kurt Knebusch

COLUMBUS — It’s crazy to start a vegetable garden in fall, right?

Actually, it’s crazy not to — that is, if you like having lots of fresh produce to eat.

Plus, now it can taste like victory.

Contrary to what some people think, vegetable gardening doesn’t end with summer, said Pam Bennett, horticulture educator with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Come autumn in Ohio, “there’s still plenty of time left in the growing season,” she said.

Bennett directs CFAES’ statewide Master Gardener Volunteers program. And she’s helping lead the new Ohio Victory Gardens program, a joint effort by CFAES and the Ohio Department of Agriculture aimed at boosting interest in gardening, helping Ohioans grow their own fresh food and lifting spirits in a trying time.

Even, yes, after the weather turns chilly.

Some veggie crops like it cool

“All of the plants that we put in the garden in early spring can also be grown in late summer and early fall,” Bennett said. “In fact, they thrive under the cooler fall conditions.”

Spinach, lettuce, kale, and collards make good crops to grow in fall in Ohio, Bennett said. So do beets, broccoli, carrots, mustard, arugula, and onions, among others.

“The most important thing is to look at the seed package to see how much time it takes for a plant to mature,” she said.

Green beans, for instance, can take up to 60 days to mature from seed and might not see warm enough weather in fall to end up giving a good crop.

Planting green beans in, say, late August means they wouldn’t be ready until late October. That may be pushing the limit in Ohio, Bennett said.

Lettuce, on the other hand, matures in 45–55 days and keeps growing well when it’s cool out. In fact, lettuce prefers cool weather, which makes it one of the key healthy veggies that can help a fall garden succeed.

Grow your own groceries

The “Victory Garden” concept dates back to World Wars I and II, when government officials encouraged Americans to grow gardens for patriotism and to supplement their groceries.

The new Ohio program offers free how-to advice and science-based resources at u.osu.edu/ohiovictorygardens. What and where to plant? How to manage pests? How to cook and can your bounty? Those are some of the topics covered on the website. The program’s first free seed giveaway, alas, just ended, but another one is planned for spring.

Help on how to do it

If you’re new to gardening, especially in fall, or just need an answer or advice, the Master Gardener Volunteers program trains and supports a network of more 3,300 plant and gardening experts throughout Ohio. They serve in all 88 of the state’s counties, coordinated by their county’s OSU Extension office, and provide their assistance free of charge. Details and county contacts are available at mastergardener.osu.edu.

If there’s a silver lining at all to the coronavirus pandemic, Bennett said, it’s people’s growing interest in backyard gardening. The Victory Gardens program is a great opportunity for Ohioans to green their thumbs, she said.

“We hope to inspire them to continue.”

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