The fall vegetable garden is some of the best, easiest and healthiest gardening you can do because:

•Temperatures are comfortable.

•Pests are few.

•Weeds are minimal.

•Rains are frequent.

•Harvests are quicker.

Cool crops start out strong, growing quickly, and then slow their growth as days become shorter and cooler, according to the gardening experts at Bonnie Plants, which sells vegetable transplants at garden centers nationwide.

You also need to work less to protect your garden from pests, as both insects and animal populations will taper off in fall.

Now is the time to start that fall vegetable garden.

Before planting, prep your soil. Remove any garden debris from the past season's garden and remove weeds before they go to seed.

Size up your soil. Loosen compacted soil, fluffing it up with a garden fork. Adding a 2-inch layer of bagged compost slowly benefits your crops and soil; an application of a balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10, spread according to label directions, is valuable, too.

Consider planting op-tions. Large planters and raised beds fashioned with timbers, retaining-wall stones or cinderblocks allow you to start with quality soil - half topsoil and half compost - and require you to bend less to access crops.

Most vegetables need full sun - at least six hours per day. When frost threatens, cover plants with floating row cover (paper-thin fabric that lets air and light in), cold frame or cloches (glass bell jars). Veggies grown in pots can be placed on wheels that allow you to move them inside a garage or shed on frost-threatening nights.

Pick your plants. Trans-plants, or baby plants six weeks or older, get you a quicker harvest than seed. Look for plants in easy-use biodegradable pots that make planting simple, prevent transplant shock and lessen use of plastic pots. As the pot biodegrades, it also adds nutrients to the soil.

•Choose cool crops your family likes. Some fall veggies to consider, courtesy Bonnie Plants, include:

•Lacinato kale - A cold-hardy vegetable, kale leaves get sweet tasting after frost. Health experts tout the benefits of eating kale.

•Early dividend broccoli - Many greens love fall weather, and broccoli is no exception. Plant stalks 18 inches apart to harvest a crop that's healthy to eat and easy to steam.

•Cabbage - Hybrid cabbage grows large, round blue-green heads you can use in salads, stews and soups - or steam alone.

•Romaine lettuce - Space transplants 18 inches apart for nutrition-rich lettuce you can use on salads, sandwiches and wraps.

•Water wisely. Plants need an inch of moisture weekly - from Mother Nature or you.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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