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The Full-Buck Moon: Time To Plant Your Fall Garden

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By Will Summers & Linda Summers, Master Gardeners

The Full-buck moon refers to the time of year when male whitetail deer antlers begin to grow. The name originates from Native American and Colonial American cultures. This moon is also called the “Thunder Moon” and the “Hay Moon” due to weather and crop expectations for the season. This year, the Full-buck moon arrives July 14th. As was for our ancestors, there is no significance for the Full-buck moon to gardening except for its important measurement of time. The Full-buck moon is the first full moon in July and marks a date to begin planting your fall vegetables.

By the date of Full-buck moon arrival, gardeners need to prepare for their annual fall planting. Days grow shorter, and temperatures have reached their peak. Fall precipitation is steadier with adequate soil moisture. Insect pests decline in the fall.

As children, we thought that gardens were only planted once a year—in the spring. However, some of the best vegetables thrive with cooler fall temperatures and many withstand light frosts. For Washington, Clinton and Marion Counties, the median date of the first 32 degree freeze is October 22-31. (For Jefferson County, the median fall freeze date is October 11-20.) Median date indicates that there is a 50 percent chance that a freeze will occur on or after the dates shown. However, 2016 is running well-above with warmer temperatures. We recommend you use the later of these dates this year.

Planting Dates – Determined by vegetable harvest dates. To calculate when you should plant your fall garden, count backwards from the frost date using the number of days to maturity to determine the best date to plant in your area.

For instance, in Southern Illinois, plant vegetables that require more time such as brussel sprouts, cabbage (direct seeded), collard, kale, kohlrabi, pepper, Irish potato, summer squash, and tomatoes between June 1-July 15. However, beginning July 15 through August 1, plant vegetables that need a moderate amount of time but can withstand cooler weather such as snap beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, endive, okra, and rutabaga. Then, between August 15-25, plant vegetables requiring less time or are most cold hearty such as Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, cos and leaf lettuce, mustard greens, winter radishes and turnips. For the last crops to go in the ground September 10-20, consider leaf lettuce, mustard greens, radishes and spinach.

Site Preparation – Avoid deep tillage if planting over earlier, spent vegetables. Tilling may bring weed seeds to the surface and cause soils to dry. Therefore, cut off existing plants and remove. Plant them directly into the vacant space. Pull to remove weeds only. Then mulch to cool soils, reduce weeds and add nutrients.

Fall Crops – Fall planting is a great time for salad vegetables that do not need to flower to be productive. It is essential to pick a variety of your favorite vegetables that do well in cool weather. Most plants should be direct seeded such as radish, lettuce, beans, okra and kale. Start many kole crops in advance from seed indoors.

Plant Care – Keep your fall garden well-watered immediately after planting. Unpredictable summer precipitation may linger for the first few weeks. Add a liquid fertilizer after plants are established. Work any complete granular fertilizer into the top 2 inches of soil keeping 3 to 4 inches away from the plant. Granular fertilizers may be “banded” between rows if desired.

Frost Protection – There are many ways to protect your plants from those first, early frosts. Protecting your plants from the first few cold nights will extend their productive period for weeks or even a month until steadier, freezing temperatures arrive. Each evening, cover plants with light tarps or plastic tablecloths, with weights on the corners; or place water-filled gallon milk jugs between plants in a row; or cover plants with a temporary cold frame. This usually only has to be done for a night or two to start. Keep watch over the evening weather forecast to time your protection carefully.

Enjoy sharing the traditions of the Full-buck moon with children and family.

Please support our local Farmers’ Markets near you. Fresh, locally-grown vegetables are a better choice. For more information on all garden questions, please contact your nearest Master Gardener, your local University of Illinois Extension office, or your nearest public library.

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