A Fall Garden Might Be Just What The Doctor Ordered!
Most gardeners start off the season with high hopes in the spring. They dutifully prepare their garden beds and plant their seeds, dreaming of the healthy plants and perfect vegetables they’ve seen in the seed catalogues as they were ordering seeds and planning the new year’s garden. But by midsummer, the inevitable battles with heat, drought, plant-munching insects, and various blights and diseases have dampened their enthusiasm for gardening. And by Labor Day they’re relieved to pull out the shaggy, overgrown, not-so-perfect-looking plants, consign them to the compost bin, hang up the gardening tools for winter, and plan for better things next year. Although this desire to “call it a season” after fighting your way through summer’s gardening challenges is certainly understandable, there’s good reason to press on and plant a fall garden.
Fall gardening can be productive, rewarding, and is usually quite free of many of summer’s challenges. After the dryness of summer, increased autumn rainfall brings a welcome relief from watering chores. Many insects have completed their lifecycles and are heading into winter hibernation, so you won’t have to compete with them for your vegetables. The heat and humidity that quickly spread fungal and bacterial diseases (not to mention make the gardener uncomfortable and irritable) are no longer present. Overall, fall is a very pleasant time in the garden.
The long, hot days of summer can make it difficult (if not impossible, depending on where you live) to grow greens such as lettuce and spinach which will quickly bolt and become bitter, but the shorter, cooler days of fall allow the return of these plants to the garden. Brassicas such as broccoli, kale, and cabbages are the stars of the fall garden, thriving in the cooler temperatures. Root vegetables such as carrots, beets and rutabagas can be matured in still-warm fall soils and then left in the ground to harvest through Christmas (or perhaps through the whole winter, depending on your local climate.) All of these vegetables can not only survive a frost, but their flavor will actually be improved after they’ve been hit by frost a few times. This is because sugar is a plant’s natural antifreeze. When temperatures drop below freezing, plants create more sugars to protect themselves and the result is much sweeter vegetables.
The trick to having a good fall garden is starting plants early enough so that they’re large and healthy by the time of the first frost in your area. This can be somewhat difficult since your garden space is no doubt typically devoted to summer crops such as tomatoes, peppers and beans, that will keep producing until they are hit by frost. By the time you pull these summer crops out, it will be too late to plant the fall garden. It is important to plan ahead.
In mid-summer, start seeds in trays for cool-weather greens and brassicas such as lettuces, mustard greens, spinach, kale, cabbages, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Consult your seed packets or catalogues to find out exactly how long each variety will take to mature, and make sure to start seeds early enough to allow for the full growing period. Look for empty places in the garden where you can fit a row of root crops such as carrots, beets or rutabagas which need to be direct-seeded in the garden by mid-summer in order to have time to mature.
Although it may seem like your garden is full, if you look around it is likely you’ll find some space where some plants didn’t do as well as you would have liked, or where they’re far enough apart to allow light in so a row of carrots could be sown between them or underneath them. Be prepared to pull out some of the summer crops that have seen their better day and that aren’t so productive anymore when the time comes to plant the seedlings you’ve started in the trays. (As unthinkable as it may seem to pull that tomato or pepper plant while it could still produce more, weigh the benefits of a couple more tomatoes from a blighted plant versus big, healthy broccoli to harvest for Thanksgiving. ) Remember that transplants can be placed between summer crops in spaces that would be too small for the mature plants, since by the time the new fall plants get big the summer crops will be done producing and need to be pulled out.
Once the summer stuff is all out, look for a place to plant multiplier onions and garlic. These are typically planted around the time of first frost in the fall, grow during winter and spring, and are ready to harvest in mid-summer. Another crop to consider trying to overwinter is fava beans. They can be planted in the fall and some varieties will survive freezing temperatures down to 10oF. As long as your local climate is mild enough to allow their survival, the plants will act as a groundcover during the winter and will finish maturing and produce beans in the spring.
With a little bit of advanced planning, you could have your best-looking garden of the year at just the time when everyone else’s garden is just a heap of frost killed vines. And you just may find your enthusiasm for gardening renewed long before the new year’s seed catalogs even show up in the mailbox.
- /Source spurtrackproductions.com