If you can get past the heat of July and August, autumn gardening can be very rewarding. In the South, you are able to extend the outdoor garden production and enjoyment to a second growing season. We in the Southwest Headquarters (HDQ) Community garden are currently focusing our Fall gardening efforts to provide local food banks with a crop of fresh organic vegetables in time for Thanksgiving. Here are some of the things we’re doing that you may be able to adopt in your home and/or community gardens.
The end of Summer is a great time to add compost to the garden because many of the nutrients in the garden have been consumed by hungry Spring and Summer plants at this point. You can purchase many different commercial compost mixes or if you’ve been composting your kitchen scraps, leaves, and clippings, this will be a perfect time to cash in on your hard work. At this point remove any unwanted limbs, weeds, and dead plants from the garden. Check the health of your garden for diseases or trouble spots. Work the finished compost into your garden. Don’t add partially composted material as this will actually cost you valuable nitrogen as things decompose. Make any irrigation adjustments you may need and you should be ready for your crop selection.
Selecting Seeds or Transplants
Timing is everything for Fall gardening. Some of the variables to consider are a late stubborn Summer that won’t depart, a Winter that is looming, and of course the amount of total sunlight that is diminishing daily. It is usually more difficult this time of year to start seeds because of the hot dry weather. It can be helpful to soak larger seeds such as peas and beans overnight between two damp paper towels. Ideally planting seeds should be delayed until temperatures moderate such as after a cool front. Currently, temperatures in North Texas are still in the 90s so we’re leaning this year towards more transplants and less seeds to get our Fall garden started. We’re targeting plant varieties with a relatively shorter maturity cycle. You can check numerous online resources that will help you pick the best plant varieties for your region of the country.Take extra caution to ensure your Fall transplants have plenty of water as the soil and other plants are currently competing for any trace of moisture. This is also a great time to add a layer of mulch that will help prevent weeds and increase your garden’s water retention.
Planning your Harvest
Typically, a vegetable harvest should be planned from the plate backwards. Will you be consuming, sharing, or donating the fruit of your labor? These questions along with the selection of your plants will help you plan the harvest. Today in the Southwest HDQ Community Garden we’re hoping for a large Thanksgiving harvest of fresh organic produce. The large majority of our community garden has been planted so we are in a growing and maintenance mode. At many home vegetable gardens in the South, gardeners will stagger their planting in the Fall to extend the harvest season. It’s not unusual to still be harvesting Fall crops for a Christmas meal.
Favorite Fall Crops
Some crops just seem to excel when planted for fall production. Of course, an early hard frost can quickly change things. Here are a few favorite vegetables for Fall planting, each requiring around 60 days to harvest.
Beets – Start beets from seed. Beets are highly nutritious and produce multiple crops. Both beet leaves and bulbs are edible.
Broccoli – Probably the most productive fall crop grown, when you consider the dollar value of the crop. Broccoli is a good choice to use transplants instead of seed. Maintain moisture and fertility for top production.
Collard Greens – My favorite Fall crop. Collards are easy to grow from seeds or transplants and widely available this time of year. Collards are a nutritional all-star and can be prepared to eat in five minutes.
Green Beans – Also known as string beans or snap beans. Green beans grown in the fall are sweeter and better tasting than their spring grown brethren.
Squash - Fall grown squash can really be productive. Fortify your soil with several shovels full of compost prior to planting.
We will be planning our harvest at the Southwest HDQ Community garden for mid-November in time to give Thanks in our community. Spring planning is on the horizon already. Gardening always keeps you looking ahead and dreaming of magnificent crops. I know the food banks will appreciate anything sent their way. Do you have any plans for your garden?
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I LUV being outdoors! When I helped start a community garden in an unused patch of space at Headquarters a few years ago, I knew that it would be a great way for me and my Fellow Employees to get outside and stay active in the mornings and during our lunch breaks. But what started as a small garden has grown into an organic way (literally!) for Employees to connect with each other and with the local community. While the garden produces a harvest like potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and herbs, it also serves as a way for Southwest Employees a way to learn and teach each other about gardening. We offer information sessions for Employees every few months on topics ranging from rainwater harvesting to composting—transforming the garden into an outdoor classroom. Now, dozens of Employees regularly plant and maintain the garden, and many Departments have “adopted” their own beds, including Network Planning, Maintenance, Revenue Management, and Ground Operations. The garden gives back to us through education, and it also gives back to our nearby communities. All of the food harvested from the garden is donated to local area food banks, including the food pantry at Metrocrest Social Services near Dallas Love Field. The last time I dropped off a donation at Metrocrest, I met an employee whose daughter works for Southwest Airlines. He was so excited to hear about the garden and pleased that our Company garden is helping his cause. It feels great to know that because of this garden, we can give back to our local community, help alleviate urban poverty, and make valuable connections with local organizations that do so much to help those in need. I’m glad that I’ve been able to share my passion for gardening with my Fellow Employees. While our community garden is a relatively small operation, it has built a mighty community of learning and service among Southwest Employees. And there’s so much more we can do! I’m already thinking about how we can expand in the future like increasing our composting capacity and maybe even build a greenhouse. After all, this garden has already proved that growing delicious food can be accomplished inexpensively and effectively with the help of busy hands and plenty of Servant’s Hearts. This summer, consider getting involved with a community garden. Besides benefitting physically from spending time outside, you’ll learn how local food production can positively impact your community and yourself. Who knows what new relationships and skills you’ll grow?
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Over the past several seasons, the HDQ Community Garden has been evolving right in the midst of our busy campus. We’ve had lots of fun and plowed through many opportunities to learn and teach about earth-friendly gardening methods with our SWA family while sharing our crops with our surrounding community food banks. We have always aspired to share our learning and have been open to new suggestions and interests to include as many folks and interests as possible. As more people learn about the Garden, more opportunities come our way. This recently produced a wonderful addition to the SWA community garden. Recently, Chad Martin from Dallas Inflight contacted us about a way the Green Ambassadors from Dallas Inflight could get in all the buzz and excitement being generated by the garden. After a short conversation to discuss possibilities, we settled on the idea to provide a butterfly habitat for the garden. The timing for this opportunity could not have come at a better moment. This past winter the Dallas County Master Gardeners (DCMG) selected our garden as a project site which they will sponsor with horticulture education and know-how all in the interest of advancing local gardening awareness. Duddly Hargrove, Lynn Trull and Ray Powers from the DCMG quickly ran with our request to produce a butterfly habitat at Southwest Airlines. We very quickly were able to turn DAL Inflight Green Ambassadors’ interests and our relationship with the Master Gardeners into a location in our garden that will help sustain the annual butterfly migration passing through Dallas. Welcome, Monarchs! Happy Gardening, and enjoy the butterflies this season!
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