I love fall gardening. Seeds germinate quickly, seedlings grow quickly at first then slow down as the days shorten and become cooler, and planting times are more forgiving. I don't have to race against the impending heat and stress of summer the way that I do when planting in the spring. Fall planting can be done a few plants, or a few rows of seeds, at a time, from late August through October.
Despite the flexible planting schedule, or perhaps because of it, I always debate when to begin. According to the planting guides, broccoli and other cabbage family plants can be planted starting in late August. Depending on the year, though, late August and early September can be brutally hot. I don't mind giving newly-transplanted seedlings, or freshly-planted seeds, daily watering and attention, but I don't like to struggle to keep the plants just alive, so I try to wait until cooler temperatures have shifted from distant dream to distinct possibility.
But it's never that simple in Austin, and all of my rules have been broken. I decided that I would not plant until the first ground-soaking rains of the season, but some years there were no fall rains. I told myself to wait until the third cold front, but cold fronts varied so much that I lost track - does that count as the second or the third front? I planned to wait until the high temperatures dropped into the low 90's, but the temperatures would fluctuate, or would refuse to drop, even in October.
So far this year we've had one mild cold front and one, long ground-soaking rain. The rain and cooler temperatures of this week's tropical storm inspired me to plant. At the garden center, though, only a few flats of one variety of broccoli were available. I chose a few plants and decided that it was probably for the best. This way I will return for more plants - different broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage - later in the month, which will space out my planting. I also bought many seed packets for planting lettuces, greens, and cool-season herbs like cilantro, but I don't plan to plant the seeds for another week or two, depending on the temperatures.
Yesterday I planted four broccoli plants in the far corner of my new backyard garden space. They are Green Magic hybrids, an early- to mid-season maturing variety that produces uniform blue-green broccoli heads. I dug a hole for each transplant and was relieved to find that the soil beneath the mulch was moist and workable, nothing like the baked, hard ground that I had covered in mulch about a month before. Once planted and watered in, the baby broccoli plants looked small and far apart, surrounded by mountains of mulch. Grow, Green Magics, grow.