If you are contemplating planting a fall vegetable crop but find yourself hesitating because you’ve already done so much work in the garden already, let Amy Bullock Loving of the Wolff’s Plant and Garden Center encourage you to keep on gardening until the first harsh frost.
Amy cites one major reasoning to keep on planting and harvesting. If you’ve taken the time to prepare your soil, she says, fall is the time when that soil reaches its peak. If, like most organic gardeners, you’ve attended to the soil, adding compost, manure or biochar, it takes time for all of the benefits to accrue in the soil. If you add these in the spring, the soil will be “teeming with great microorganisms” by fall, says Amy.
Even though some cold-hardy vegetables like radishes and spinach do have a short season, you’ll be able to harvest some really healthy, tasty radishes and spinach, thanks to the nutrient-rich soil.
If you’re now convinced, you might be wondering when to start planting. Two weeks ago, the Wolff’s newsletter mentioned all of the great cold-hardy plants available now and mentioned also that now is the time to plant them. If you thought to yourself, “but, it’s not even cold yet,” Amy will reassure you that these cold-hardy plants will flourish in mid-July and early August, when the days are getting shorter and the nights are cooler. For the fall harvest, now is “an ideal time to begin planting,” she says. You can plant “rooty things” like beets and carrots from seeds, she notes.
And, says Amy, now is the time to part with those drooping or mildewed plants. If things are looking spent, be sure to “clean your garden.” If your plants have succumbed to some diseases or mildews, “don’t let it perpetuate,” says Amy. Even though tomatoes will keep going until the first frost, now is the time to put fresher things in their place.
And what’s a good thing to put in the tomatoes’ place? Collards! Amy says planting collards after tomatoes will replenish the nutrients the tomatoes took out. And as you think ahead to next summer, keep in mind that you should never plant tomatoes in the same spot two years in a row, she says. It’s hard on the soil. She says collards are so beneficial they’re worth growing simply for the nutrients they give the soil, even if you don’t end up cooking with them. But why not cook with them too? Collards are great, Amy says, because you can freeze them for later to use in soup or in traditional collard greens.
Amy makes sure she envisions the fall as she plants in the spring, thinking about the plants that will replace tomatoes and other summer veggies.
Extending the Season
While radishes and spinach have a short life in the garden, it’s possible to extend the season for many greens and even cabbage. To do so, Amy recommends using either a cold frame or a hoop house.
Cold frames construct a mini-greenhouse for your garden by using two-by-fours, doors, and plexiglass or other clear material to hold the heat in. Two great things about cold frames are that you can build them around your raised bed and you can open the door on top of the frame on warm days.
Hoop Houses are also easy to make, says Amy. Make one by constructing a series of metal, plastic or wood hoops, and then covering the hoops with heavy-duty greenhouse plastic.
Both items are worth the investment because you can use them in the very early spring as well as the fall. Some people are even able to sweep off the snow and gather veggies in the winter! Kale, collards and cabbage will keep going until there is a killing frost (not just a light frost). You can keep your mini-greenhouses near your house or in full sun to give your plants even longer life. Sometimes you can even get kale until December!
Amy’s Fall Vegetable Garden
What’s Amy planting this fall? Cabbage for sure, because she loves sauerkraut and she likes that cabbage hangs around for a while. She is also planting leafy greens like kale and collards, plus carrots, beets, lettuces (knowing they won’t last long), brussels and more.
Looking Toward Spring
Whether or not you opt for a lush fall crop this year, there is one thing you can do this fall to boost your garden. Amy recommends adding compost to your garden now so that it will overwinter well and then start teeming with all those good microorganisms in the spring!