THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON EPIC GARDENING.
WINTER IS COMING!
But before it does, there is still the autumn, and many people can manage to squeak another batch of fall vegetables out at this time of year.
But when should you have your plants in the ground, and how much time do they need before they produce?
There are more questions about fall gardening that I’m sure you’re wondering:
- What fall crops do well in the colder months of the year, and how can you incorporate these into your growing habits?
- Do you want to plant from seed, or plant young seedling plants?
- How can you prepare your fall garden to ensure that these plants survive pests and diseases to produce you another harvest of food?
If you’re wondering any of the above, then wonder no more, as I’ve got you covered. We’re going to focus on all of that and even more.
So settle in with a nice cool drink during the fading heat of the summer, and let’s talk about everything you need to know to get another harvest before the chill sets in.
The Timing Problem: How Do You Know When To Plant?
When Is Your Frost Date?
They say timing is everything — but it really is when you’re considering fall planting. Almost everywhere has a list of estimated dates for the first and last frosts, and while they may not be 100% accurate every year, it’s good enough to plan your upcoming garden around.
Not all frost dates are the same, of course. You will need to research your estimated frost dates before you can begin. Remember, these are always estimated, based on prior weather patterns, so if you have a freak frost outside of the normal patterns, you may have to rush out and protect young plants in the cold. While there’s a wide variety of maps which give a good generalized overview, I am personally fond of this frost date calculator for getting a good estimate of when to expect the cold to come.
What Is Your Crop’s Time to Maturity?
Once you know your frost date, it’s time to look at what you’re growing. What’s your crop’s time to maturity? If, for instance, your first frost generally shows up in late November, and you’ve got plants which take 60 days to come to maturity, you’re going to want to plant in the end of August or beginning of September.
Count backwards from the estimated frost date, and add at least an extra week to account for any variables. That’s when that plant needs to be in the ground.
Of course, if you’re planting seeds, you need to add a little extra time. Germination is slow, after all — it can take up to two weeks for your fall vegetables to sprout and form a pair of true leaves, and for some, it can take even longer.
Add the estimated germination time to your maturity time, add a week or two just in case there’s an early frost, count backwards through a calendar from your estimated frost date, and that’s when you should be sowing that seed!
What To Plant In Fall
So you’ve decided you are going to try to get one extra crop this year… but you may be asking what to plant in fall. Allow me to give you a list of popular vegetables to plant in the fall months!
Edible-leaved plants: These are the ones that generally would be bitter or would bolt in the summertime. Examples are lettuce, collards, mustard greens, arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, or kales. Some varieties are especially cold-hardy, so you might want to consider one that does well in the cooler months.
Head vegetables: This is a great time of year to plant vegetables that you’ll cut the heads from, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, or endives. Brussels sprouts are also an excellent choice for the fall vegetable garden.
Allium family: Now’s your chance to plant bunching onions and green onions, leeks, and garlic. You may also be able to plant onions in areas which are unlikely to get hard freezes or snow, as with a nice mulch layer they can continue to grow all winter long.
Root vegetables: All sorts of root vegetables grow well in the fall, including carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, radishes, kohlrabi, and rutabagas.
Other vegetables: Peas love the cooler temperatures of the autumn, so are perfect for fall planting. Some varieties of bush beans also do extremely well at this time of year, producing a nice late harvest just in time for your Thanksgiving dinner. In climates where frost is almost nonexistent, you may be able to sneak in a crop of cold-tolerant cucumbers as well.
Sow or Transplant?
Both sowing and transplanting seeds are viable options… but most people realize that the summer has slipped by once it’s too late. If this has happened to you (and it does happen to all of us at some point), you’ll need to buy seedling plants instead.
You can plan months ahead and sow your own seeds, especially if you want fall crops you can’t easily find elsewhere. If you like unusual carrot types, or can’t find seedlings locally, this may be an option. You will need to start them much earlier than you might think to give the time long enough to get established.
Another thing to take into consideration is how hot it is when you start the seeds. If you still have another month of 90 degree or higher temperatures, your seedlings could sprout and immediately wilt in the sun. That can be disastrous! I recommend starting your seeds in seedling flats filled with a good seed starting mix rather than direct-sowing them. You can keep them in the shade during the hottest parts of the day, or even keep them indoors in a sunny window, offering you a better chance of getting a good harvest.
As you can see, this can be a complex situation, and so starting from seed in the fall is not for everyone.
For the casual gardener, your best bet is going to be to purchase existing seedlings when you’re ready to plant. It’s much simpler, and the seedlings already are off to a good start. Often, the seedlings have already been culled and are ready to plant, which saves you a lot of heartache.