Take advantage of cooler weather to grow a spring garden in the fall. Broccoli, kale, spinach, lettuce, and other early spring crops grow well in the cooler weather of fall, and you’ll like the benefits: fewer insects, less sweat, a sweet flavor brought on by frost, and an extended harvest season in milder climates.
The farther south you live, the longer the life of your fall garden. In the North, you can enjoy a good fall harvest until at least the first hard freeze; beets, parsnips, and carrots stay in the ground after freezes if covered with hay. Kale tolerates temperatures in the teens. Cold-hardy collards and kale get a rich, sweet flavor after their leaves are touched by frost. Some spinach, such as the old Bloomsdale Long Standing, is also quite tolerant of cold. In the milder South and Southwest, a fall garden becomes a winter garden that you’ll harvest for many months until spring.
A Few Particulars of Fall
Start with plants instead of seeds to get a jump on the season. Buy short-season varieties, which are sold this time of year. They’ll mature early to beat the cold. Bonnie fall plants will arrive at your favorite garden center in time for planting.
One challenge to starting a fall garden is spells of extremely hot weather in August and September when it is time to plant. Water regularly and mulch with compost or a good, rich organic material such as leaf mold or bagged soil conditioner. Daytime temperatures in the mid 80s threaten broccoli and spinach, which are quick to bolt (flower). Throwing a length of see-through white fabric over the plants during a hot spell may cool them down just enough. You can usually order row covers from mail-order companies, but if you’re in a hurry, buy lightweight polyester interfacing, white toile, or a white sheer at your local fabric store.
To extend the harvest in colder climates, consider a cold frame. This is like a small greenhouse that sits on top of the ground. Lift the lid to reach what is growing inside. Be sure that your cold frame is tall enough to accommodate plants you plan to grow. An internet search for “cold frame” brings up pre-fab frames and plans for building your own.
It’s a Good Time for Raised Beds
Another challenge of fall planting is good drainage, because the season gets wetter as winter approaches. Raising the soil level just 8 inches will help prevent rot. Fill the bed with a mix of native soil and compost or organic soil amendments.
Good Vegetables for the Fall Garden
- Brussels sprouts
- Lettuce & other salad greens
- Mustard greens
- Scallions (young onions)