It’s time to get your fall garden in! Here are some tips for a successful fall harvest…
Fall is just around the corner, and if you haven’t planted your fall garden yet, now is the time!
Remember that although cool-weather crops will grow quickly this time of year in the warm soil of late summer, most will still need at least a couple of months of frost-free weather to make it to maturity.
Many fall crops such as greens and root vegetables may still be harvested after the first frost, but their growth will slow dramatically, so if they aren’t ready for harvest when frost hits, you may not get much of a harvest at all.
As the article below from Modern Farmer mentions, cool weather crops grow best when daytime temperatures are in the 70s and low 80s and nights are in the 40s and 50s, so if this sounds like your area, now is probably the time to get planting!
Here are a few tips for growing a great fall garden this year:
1.) Count Backwards from Your First Frost Date
Each region of the country has an ideal planting window for fall crops…
To find the optimal time to plant fall crops, you need to know the average date of first frost in your area. Your local cooperative extension office or any local nursery should be able to provide this information, or you can look it up in an online almanac. Then, check the back of the seed packet for each crop you want to plant for the “days to maturity.” Subtract that number from the average date of last frost to find the best time to plant.
For example, if you want to grow Calabrese broccoli, which needs about 75 days to mature, and your average date of first frost is October 15, plant the seeds no later than August 1. It’s better to err on the side of planting a bit early because growth will slow as the days get shorter, so the last two weeks of July is the optimal planting window in this scenario. Plus, you never know if cold weather will come earlier than usual…
2.) Sow Your Seeds
It’s easiest to start fall crops in flats rather than sow the seeds directly in the ground, so you can start them in a partially shaded area outdoors or in a sunny window indoors. The seedbed needs to remain evenly moist for germination to occur, which may require watering several times a day if temperatures are in the 90s. Alternatively, string up a canopy of shade cloth over a bed and start them directly where they are to grow.
3.) Plant the Seedlings
Once your plants have two “true” leaves, which look more like the leaves on a mature plant, they’re ready to be planted…
There is no need to till vegetable beds that have had summer crops growing in them before planting fall crops, but it helps to fork the soil lightly to loosen the top couple inches of soil, which may have become compacted over the course of the growing season…
Assuming compost and soil amendments were mixed into the beds at planting time, there should be enough nutrients to support healthy growth of the fall crops… Fortunately, pests and disease are usually less of a problem once the weather cools.
4.) The Fall Harvest
Cool weather brings out the best flavor in leafy greens and many root crops. Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, carrots and Brussels sprouts become extra sweet as the days become shorter. In the mild winter climates of California, Florida and the Deep South, fall crops may continue to produce all winter long. Wherever freezing weather is common, they will eventually succumb to the cold. In this case, you still have the option of installing row covers or cold frames over the crops to keep them alive and available for harvest well into early winter.