Thursday, July 11, 2013

When To Plant In The Fall

While at the moment we are preparing for the upcoming end of spring and summer harvests we also have started preparing for the fall garden. Since I have gotten quite a few questions about a fall planting I am going to try to address them with one post as opposed to answering all those comments and emails. Just a warning this could get a little lengthy but I will try to keep it brief.

Why A Fall Garden?

For me a fall garden here in zone 5A is a second chance on many spring crops. A perfect example is this year's pea crop. We planted our early pea crop twice at the normal time only to battle rabbits, a ground hog attack, torrential rainfall resulting in one of the wettest springs we have seen in awhile and then to top it off a May 1 snowstorm dumping 6 inches of heavy snow on top of our peas.  We gave up realizing that peas are a crop that prefers cool temperatures. Once we had been set back that far time wise if we had planted again it would have went into the hottest part of the summer. This effects not only the yield of the crop but also the taste.  We have instead opted to try a crop planted in August to take advantage of those cooler growing days of September and October.  

Sure it is a gamble but welcome to gardening!

For us when life in the spring garden is less than ideal fall is a great way to make it up so to speak. Many times a crop that fails for us in the spring will produce a bumper crop in the fall.  It is also a way to extend that fresh produce for the table clear up to winter. Also as a general rule we find that we deal with less weeds in the fall garden and less insects. And those fall temperatures are wonderful for the gardener. 

What to plant!

Usually fall crops are crops that are cool weather tolerant.  Think about those crops that are planted in early spring in your area. For us cool weather crops include:

  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Green Peas
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Turnips
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Bok Choy 
Many of these crops such as brussel sprouts are actually sweeter once hit by a light frost or two.  And don't forget those garlic bulbs for next year.

Choosing Varieties

When choosing varieties the rule of thumb I always use is that the shorter the growing season the better. For instance I would choose Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage that matures in about 63 days but makes a smaller head as opposed to the Late Flat Dutch cabbage that takes 100 days to mature. Our average first frost in this area (zone 5A) is about the middle of October. I could plant Early Jersey Wakefield  seeds now (which I have) and grow them under light for about 4 weeks...middle of August. Set them out in the garden the middle of August and with a little shade, water and care have cabbage by the end of September or first of October if the weather cooperates.  That Late Flat Dutch cabbage would have to be set out much earlier in much hotter weather to accommodate the longer growing time (100 days). Many seed companies will even put out a special catalog of fall seed selections.

For us here is what we will be planting:

Broccoli Premium Crop (hybrid).....55 days
Turnip Purple Top White Globe (heirloom)....55 days
Bok Choy China Choy (open pollinated)....65 days 
Cabbage Early Jersey Wakefield (heirloom)....63 days
Beet Detroit Dark Red (heirloom)..........60 days
Spinach Bloomsdale (heirloom)..........48 days
Lettuce Black Seeded Simpson (heirloom)......50 days
Lettuce Tom Thumb (heirloom)............34 days
Lettuce Jericho Romaine (open pollinated)......56 days
Lettuce Paris Island Romaine (heirloom) ..........75 days
Brussel Sprouts Catskill (heirloom).............85 to 110 days 
Carrot Danvers (open pollinated) .......... 65 days
Pea Early Frosty (open pollinated)........63 days
Pea Maestro (open pollinated) .............. 60 days
Pea Champion of England (heirloom) ...............60 to 75 days

When And How To Plant

Some things in the fall garden like bok choy, lettuce, even cabbage and broccoli I can start directly from seeds in the garden by providing a little extra tlc. Try starting your seeds directly in place under milk jugs with the bottoms cut out. Remember to keep them watered daily in hot weather.   

As I took out a crop last year I simply replaced it with another later crop with the exception of a few that will be allowed to go to seed for seed saving. As my corn is harvested in a few weeks the soil will be amended to make way for a later crop of peas in the same spot carrying the harvest all the way to late fall. As the beans are picked they will make way for cabbage, broccoli, beets, spinach and lettuce.    

Start your seeds just as you would in the spring. Here I have already started cabbage, broccoli and some lettuce. I like to stagger my lettuce plantings about once every 3 weeks.

Just a word of warning here this patch of ground is prime gardening real estate.  Treat it as such.Your vegetables are only as nutritious as your soil. It takes a great deal out of the soil to produce 3 consecutive crops spring, summer and fall. Feed your soil!!! Amendments are your friend : ) Compost, blood and bone meal, compost and animal manures that do not burn such as rabbit and goat and compost will all do wonderfully! In a pinch a good organic fertilizer will do. 

I'm gonna write a song one day....mulch and compost, mulch and compost! Are ya tired of hearing that yet?

When to plant?

Determine the average date of your first frost.

Google is your friend! There are several sites out there that give frost date charts. For me in zone 5A the first average frost is about mid October. 

What is the "days to maturity" of your crop?

I'm planting Premium Crop broccoli and the days to maturity is 55 days. Your seed catalog or seed packet should provide you with that information. So I count back 55 days from October 15 and that gives me a date of which is approximately August 20th. So I started my seeds July 9th allowing 7 days to germinate puts them up about the 15th of July. I allow them 4 weeks under lights and hardening off for a couple days brings it up to August 15 or so before they are ready to be set out. That gives my plant an additional 45 days conceivably before the first possible frost. But remember these plants are cool tolerant many tolerating light frosts.  Also remember that the first frost might be November 30th  but then again it could be early. 

Gardening is such a gamble : )   

All you long time gardeners out there feel free to jump in and add your experiences with fall gardening, starting seeds and successes and failures in the fall.

A word of warning..this is what works for me...experiment and find your own way of doing things that works for you. Don't forget to come back and share : )

Blessings from The Holler

The Canned Quilter


  1. excellent post-thanks-I have been thinking about a fall garden here-as are having enough rain so far this yea

  2. I stagger my planting in order to save my aching old back from having too much demanding work all at once. So, in spring I plant beans, cabbage, squashes, cukes, beets, turnips and melons, carrots, tomatoes, cabbages, brussel sprouts, onions. I also have a bed of rubarb and strawberries, as well as the chives and oregano that take care of themselves pretty much. The parsley is in it's second year (a bi-annual) so I didn't have to do anything for that patch either. The cabbages and brussel sprouts take all summer to mature and I pick them early Sept or so. We have late spring killing frosts and early fall killing frosts (end of Sept, the 20th or so), so I do not plant anything until June 1 (this year mid June due to soggy wet soil) and broc and cauliflower go in late July for Oct picking as well as the peas. It was too wet to get the peas in early this year. This year we have had soaking rain EVERYDAY since May 1. It feels like a rain forest , and I have been to the real forests, they have nothing on our woods and gardens this season. Due to back pain, my gardening is scaled way down now; no corn, no potatoes since it is easy to get them from local farmers and since they take up so much gardening space I am spared that bunch of prep and weeding. No mulching so far, it is too wet and my veggies are buried in weeds but all are still growing fine. I do not till my gardens, just add manure each spring and the seeds all do well. When I begin a new area for planting I cover it up with heavy black rubber (no idea where my dear heart found it) and that kills down whatever tios growing, then I add manure to the top and plant. I also outline my gardens in the same rubber.We are getting tons of raspberries and I have frozen many packages to use for jams and syrups. There are also tons of elderberries out there so I will make a bumper crop of jams to give for gifts and will not be picking them at all next year. Do to having so many rabbits and woodchucks, I do not have one large garden any longer, instead I have many smaller ones placed closer to the house so the cats and dogs can patrol them. Since I started that program I have no noticeable loss of crops and the cats are pretty chubby. They take on full grown rabbits as well as babies, good working farm cats. Raining again. sigh. wish I could ship you some.

    1. Brenda may I ask what zone you are in? Sounds like you have your gardening down to a science. I envy you all those raspberries and I wish I could have cats outside but alas they just don't work here due to owls, eagles and coyotes.

  3. OMG! Are those your compost bins in the last pic? I have a 3 bin setup here in the city, made out of pallets. I just emptied one on two raised beds for a fall garden & had many roots embedded (I didn't turn as often as I should have). And, of course the pallets are already disintegrating. My husband was just saying that the ones we build in the country should be much larger & made out of regular wood. Do you not have trouble with rot? I think I'll print out your pic so he can have a reference.

    1. Indeed those are my compost bins! All wood rots but a better grade of wood than pallets takes longer to rot.It is a constant on a farm replacing bad boards on sheds, pens, brooders, fences and gates etc.....

  4. What an informative post! You are a blessing! I have learned more from that post than year's worth of gardening magazines! Definitely Mother Earth News needs to hire you as a writer! I just started some cabbage seeds, a few in pots on the covered porch and a few direct seeded. Now I don't remember exactly where those cabbage seeds are out in my garden - I have a close idea because I marked them with a stick, but now I don't know if they aren't coming up or I'm not looking in the right place. Duh... the milk jug idea is perfect! And I can see from the pictures that you have a stick keeping it in place. I will replant and do that. Thank you! I will also check my cabbage seed variety and see what kind they are. Now that I completely understand the "works", I can apply some of this garden knowledge and maybe actually grow something.

    I'm wishing I could share with you pictures of my little garden this year. Although miniscule compared to yours, it is looking so good and I attribute most of that to you!

    One more question (you surely get tired of us needy learners), do you direct seed the beets under milk jugs like the cabbage, etc.? Or, do you start those seeds indoors? I have the most wonderful recipe for beet jelly (you cook the beets, and can "can" those, and use the juice to make jelly by adding raspberry jello, pectin, sugar. It's one of my favorite summer bounties. I'll try to post the recipe on my blog soon.

    Thanks again for sharing the wealth of knowledge of you have. It also helps that I am only a few hours away from you, so that helps me know what I'm supposed to be doing at any time of the year. I grew up in Florida so I'm pretty much without gardening mentors here.

    Have a great day!

    1. Well bless your heart! My oldest daughter is also a Florida girl being born in Orlando (I lived there for 15 years working for the mouse : ) If you would email me your pics I will post them or just enjoy them myself!

      As for the beets I make seed mats by gluing them to napkins with elmers glue thus they are perfectly placed and you just cover them and thin a little because a beet seed is several seeds actually! Search seed mats on my blog and you should find that post if not let me know.

      Glad to know you are a neighbor and thanks again for the kind words!

    2. What a small world indeed! I grew up in Lake County, Florida (Leesburg), a hop and a skip from Orlando. I miss it so much!

      I have made seed tape myself using toilet paper so I'll give it a try with beet seeds as well.

      I'll try to take some pictures of my little garden. Keeping my fingers crossed that the deer don't get to the cucumbers and squash this year.

      Thanks for the sweet reply!

    3. Here's to you CQ! My blog post makes SPECIAL mention of my favorite blogger: (With pictures of my little garden!) THANK YOU SO MUCH!

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  6. Don't do late gardening here as that's a busy time with local festivals, company and traveling. After lamenting yesterday the lack of rain, late yesterday afternoon we received 1.5 inches and 7 hours without power. God is good!!!!

  7. we are between zones since we are in the foothills of the Adirondack Mts. By maps, we should be in zone 5A, but Zone 4 is pretty close to the way I have to garden. It is a bit warmer here than the 4's but we have the late spring/early fall killing frosts and snow in May and early Oct. is not uncommon. We have packs of coyotes and coy dogs as well as hawks and eagles, raccoons, bobcats, mink, fox, etc, but no cat losses since I moved the gardens much closer to the house. The coyotes do not want to deal with the horses or the donkey and they would have to pass through their pasture to get to the gardens and the cats. When donk hears any hint of them she stays on guard just daring them to enter the pasture so she can stomp and toss them. For sure donk is the best watch dog we have ever had. She is standard size and willing to take on any size canine, even our 110 lb. dog (but they now have reached an understanding and play/chase each other napping together after the fun) As far as planting times: when I was younger I did almost all my gardening starting early spring, so eager to get going after winter. I really didn't do much planting for fall, after all that work and canning it was nice to get an early end. But I stagger the planting (and picking and weeding) now so as to spread out the work, adapting to my poor old joints and lower level of energy. It sure is nice to have that option now. I also seed plant, the only started plants I use are tomatoes and brussel sprouts which I get from friends. Cool and dry today(yay yay yay !!! low 80's) no rain, knock on wood. now if I could just find my gardens for the weeds!! lol. My 3 yr old grandson is here to "help" his nana, just sent him and his dad out to round up long limbs and branches so I can build my tomato support(long teepee/longhouse style structure, crisscrossed with baling twine.)

  8. wild raspberries are sure plentiful this year but I will be carrying a can with stones to rattle to alert the black bears. They love the berries even more than we do.


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