Gardening in the fall isn’t often pursued with the majority of gardeners because of the lingering threat of winter frost. Yet when it’s followed through with, fall season gardening yields vegetables in excellent form and thrive longer than the longevity of spring cultivated plants. By fall gardening you’ll often find the vegetables have a sweeter and milder taste than those cultivated from summer-grown crops. The old veggies you were accustomed to suddenly have a brand new taste, and that’s what you’re aiming for.
It’s best to decide on plants based on the amount of space you have to work with and the seed types you prefer, just as if you’re spring planting. Even the plants that are best bred for heat, such as okra, sweet potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes will keep producing right up until the frost, which in southern areas tend to come later in the year.
However, some plants won’t grow past summer, such as cucumbers, summer squash and snap-beans, but until the first frost they can be harvested when planted come mid-summer. Those vegetables with tougher makeup’s can survive in climates warmer than 20 degrees, but the veggies lacking those genes are only able to take on light frosts. If freeze takes over and kills the top of any tuber or root plants, parts that are edible can still be saved when mulch is used in enough quantity.
Vegetables most subject to the frost should be picked first in your fall harvest, in other words the ones with the shortest growing season. You can enjoy the benefit of full grown crops without the effect of “frostbite”. Some labels on seed packages will note their harvest period as “early season“. Getting your seeds in early summer or even spring is a safe bet to ensure available stock compared to early summer when stock is a hit or miss. Storing them in a location cool and dry enough will keep them until fall arrives.
When exactly should you begin fall gardening?
This largely depends on your location geographically and when the forecast calls for the first real frost. The weatherman isn’t always consistent, and it’s good to pick up a quality Farmer’s Almanac for calendar planning. Here’s a great one to get you started. Rarely are they wrong and are highly accurate for an exact date. Also know the duration it takes for your plants to reach peak maturity.
The first step in preparing your soil for fall gardening is to take out any leftover weeds or crop from the previous spring/summer. This will minimize the chance of any disease or bacteria occuring. Getting the most from your garden’s nutrients is possible by either buying, or collecting compost and mulch yourself, and covering the area with at least a couple of inches. However, the soil may not need much prep depending on whether your spring plants were heavily fertilized.
The top layer of soil should be tilled followed by wetting it down, and let it set anywhere between 12 and 24 hours. Once this has been done, you are ready to start planting!
More gardeners would practice fall gardening if it wasn’t for the seasonal frost to care for, but you can still enjoy great tasting produce when vegetables that are tough (and sturdy) are planted. So, what you select for seeds makes all the difference in extending the life of your garden in face of the inevitable frost!
Teaser photo by emerson12 of Flickr