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Top Tips for Great Fall Gardens

September 14, 2011
Fall Garden With Cold Frame And Vegetables
Lacinato kale (left) and lettuces flourish in autumn’s cooler temperatures. If covered, they can last into winter and sometimes come back in spring.

With tomatoes, peppers and melons now hitting their late summer stride, it’s easy to forget that autumn and early winter can be as abundant as spring and summer. Those who seize the opportunity for a second season of growth will find the planning and planting well worthwhile.

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The steps to a bountiful fall garden are simple. Choose crops suited to fall growing conditions (see the list of crops and recommended varieties at the end of this article). Ensure your chosen site has organically enriched soil and adequate water. And start now. If you don’t have seeds on hand, use our online seed finder.

You can replace spring-planted lettuces, peas and brassicas (broccoli and its relatives) with new plantings that mature in fall. Seeds and transplants will take off quickly in the warm summer soil. They’ll appreciate cooler nights, too.

Look forward to peak flavor and performance for many crops that do not prosper in summer heat. Lower temperatures are ideal for producing crisp lettuces without the bitterness or bolting that can occur in hot weather. Frost-kissed kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage have a special sweetness. Carrots, beets and turnips also thrive in the fall garden and, after harvest, can be kept in a pantry or root cellar so you can enjoy their goodness well into winter. Collards, mustard and other greens also like cool weather.

Favored Crops for Fall

When deciding what to plant now for fall harvest, gardeners throughout most of the country should think greens and root vegetables, advises John Navazio, a plant-breeding and seed specialist at Washington State University and senior scientist for the Organic Seed Alliance in Port Townsend, Wash., which conducts annual tests of crops and varieties to evaluate their cold hardiness.

Leafy greens (such as lettuces, spinach, arugula, chard and mâche) and root veggies (such as beets, carrots, turnips, radishes and rutabagas) as well as brassicas (including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale and Chinese cabbage) and peas will all thrive in the cooler weather and shorter days of fall. In many regions, some of these cold-hardy crops will even survive the winter to produce a second harvest in spring. (See “Stretching the Season,” below.)

If you garden in the South or other areas with mild winters, you can grow all of those crops as well as heat-loving favorites. “Here, we can set out tomato transplants in late August,” says David Pitre, owner of Tecolote Farm, a certified organic farm near Austin, Texas. Pitre also plants okra, eggplant, peppers, winter squash, cucumbers and potatoes in August and September for winter harvest. Plant cool-season crops in the garden after temperatures cool — late September or later.

Fall is also prime garden season in the Pacific Northwest, where abundant rain and cool (but not frigid) temperatures are ideal for growingbrassicas , root crops and leafy greens planted in mid- to late summer. The hardiest of these crops often hang on well into winter if given protection, such as row covers or cold frames.

Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/fall-garden-zm0z11zmat.aspx#ixzz1XshHhs3X
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