Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Green and Frugal: Fall Gardening

Are you planning on planting a fall garden this year?

Fall gardens are an excellent way to continue to grow homegrown goodness even when the weather starts to turn chilly.

I’m not going to show you what has happened to my summer garden. It’s just…sad. I’ve learned over the past few months that I have much more talent for growing flowers than I do growing vegetables, and the few puny tomatoes I managed to produce didn’t even taste that good. My squash simply never happened and my beans…

Well, you get the picture.

That being said, however, I’m determined to try again. So, I’m going to plant a fall garden! I’m now dreaming of snipping Swiss Chard on chilly mornings, and pulling up bright orange fingers of carrots on crisp fall afternoons.

Fall Crops to Grow

So what kind of crops can you grow in your garden? Oh boy, lots of good stuff!

There are different varieties of crops you can grow. And you have to consider which ones will work for you based on your area, and the timing of your first frost. There are cool-weather crops, and cold-weather crops.

Cold-hardy vegetables include the following (maturity is in parenthesis):

Brussels sprouts (90 days)
Cabbage (70 days)
Collards (75 days)
Kale (55 days)
Parsnips (100-130 days)
Spinach (45 days)
Garlic (best planted when winter is really close)

Cool-weather hardy vegetables include:

Lettuce (45-60 days, depending on variety)
Mustard greens (45 days)
Radishes (25-50 days)
Rutabaga (90 days)
Snap peas (50-60 days)
Turnips (60 days)
Carrots (50-70 days, depending on variety)
Broccoli (70 days)
Cauliflower (60 days)
Green onions (50-60 days)
Beets (55-60 days)
Swiss chard (30-50 days)

How to Plant a Fall Garden

If you’re going to start your fall garden from seeds then you need to start them now (it might even be too late for seed-starting in many areas). Mother Earth News suggests counting back 12-14 weeks from your average first frost date, and choosing that week to start seeds.

P. Allen Smith also has a great bit of advice on this. He says:

The average date of the first killing frost in your area is the most important thing to know when it comes to fall vegetable gardening. Your local garden center is a good source of information for this date. To determine when to start planting, find out the number of days to maturity for the vegetable. Next, count back the number of days from the first average frost date. Some people add a week or so to allow for a few extra days to harvest the produce once it’s mature. You will find maturity information on seed packets and some plant labels.
If you’re already past this date, as I probably am, then you might want to start buying crops that have already been started. Farmers’ Markets are a great place to get veggies for fall planting. This is what I’m going to do, and then save my seeds for next year’s spring planting.

If you do start seeds, then it’s vital you know which seeds you absolutely must start indoors. Some plants, like various cabbages and salad greens, simply won’t grow if the soil is warmer than 85 degrees. This handy guide from Mother Earth News will teach you more about what crops you can grow, and how to find your average first frost date.

The key to successful fall planting is to get the plants growing to catch the last wave of summer heat AND allow them to mature before the first frost hits. You have to know how long each plant takes to mature so you know when to plant.

You also have to keep seedlings wet; drought stresses young plants, especially fall veggies, so it’s important they not dry out.

Mother Earth News suggests starting fall seeds in the shade outdoors. The shade will enable you to water just once per day, rather than 3-4. Here in Michigan we have had incredibly hot, dry conditions all through August.

Where to Plant

In most cases, you can use the same gardens you used for your spring/summer veggies. You can help your fall veggies along by mulching heavily; this will help protect the roots from hot late summer sun, and keep them moist.

You can extend the life of your growing season by using row covers to protect plants from frost, raised beds, and cold frames. Spinach and other lettuces do especially well in cold frames.

Last Word…

Are any of you planting a fall garden this year? If so, any tips? I’d love to hear them!

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