As the summer heat hits its zenith and your tomatoes and cucumbers are staggering to the finish line, you are probably thinking that gardening season is about over. You’ll hope to get another picking of beans and some pumpkins yet, but they will be the last hurrah, right?
Not so fast.
Fall is a great time to plant many things. Where we live, it seems like the spring weather goes directly from wet and mildly warm to hot and dry in about 10 days. I’ve tried growing broccoli, cauliflower, and peas repeatedly in the Spring, but they wither in the heat and produce nothing or go directly to seed (bolt) with no edible offering. This year, I waited until August to start those things in a semi-shady place.
Check the gardening section of your local big box and hardware stores. You may find that seeds and plant starting items are on clearance. Even if you don’t use them this fall, the seeds should sprout just fine next spring if kept cool and dry.
How to Start Fall Seeds
Though the majority of the garden plants are near the end of their run, most aren’t quite ready to be pulled yet. I hope to get at least some produce from them until a killing frost, so I will leave many of them for a few more weeks at least.
Others, like our vine borer-obliterated squash may as well be yanked out and burned (to kill the remaining bugs) to make room for something useful. But even if you don’t have space right now, you can still start those fall plants.
When possible, I like to start seedlings in peat pellets because then I have somewhat established plants to put in the ground and I don’t have to wonder if that green thing sprouting is what I wanted to grow or a weed. (One year, the children hoed out the carrots 3 times and left the ragweed!). I can put small plants in exactly where I want them and mulch immediately so hopefully they stay pretty weed-free.
What Can I Grow?
A few weeks ago, I started varieties of seeds that are well-adapted for fall growth. (Territorial- a family-owned business- has a great selection of fall/winter garden seeds). They either put out a crop quickly before a freeze or overwinter in the ground for a very early spring harvest.
I started spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and pac choi. Soon I will start chard, collards, radishes, carrots, and peas also, though directly in the ground rather in peat pellets.
Keep in mind that some of these varieties may need cooler weather to even sprout. Some may need to be indoors to start out because their optimum germination temperatures are lower than the outdoor air. They may also need to be protected from hot afternoon sun when outside. The first batch I sprouted I have transplanted into economy-sized yogurt cups and they are on the east side of the cucumbers, waiting to be put in the ground. They are in shade from about 1:30 on. The second batch, just sprouting in peat pellets, is in an even shadier place (on top of the rabbit hutches to protect them from chickens, goats, and Zeus the puppy, who can’t seem to leave them alone for some odd reason).
Another plus about fall gardening is that many things are “sweeter” after a frost. This is true of many root crops like parsnips, and definitely true with persimmons. If you’ve ever had a “puckery” persimmon, you know what I mean. A few days can make all the difference.
Depending on the climate in your area (and severity of your winter), you may need to mulch the plants that will deliver their crops in early spring. Piling dry fallen leaves over them may do it. On sunny days, pull the leaves back. Just remember to replace them before heavy frosts.
In addition to a leaf mulch, you can protect your plants and extend your harvest with various plant coverings. There are many ways to do this (an online search should provide you with more ideas than you can even read about) including cold frames, “hoop houses,” “Wall-O-Waters,” and much more. Each one has its pros and cons, but many are well within the average person’s means (like covering tender plants with empty 2 liter bottles).
This would be a great year to try out fall gardening, even if you just do some lettuces and spinach in pots on the porch. Salad can’t get fresher than that!