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:
- Brussel Sprouts
- Green Peas
- 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.
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