Fall is right around the corner and soon the leaves will fall and the air will turn cooler and crisper. As you look out your window perhaps you see abandoned tomato cages and withered pepper plants. Or maybe you’ve just had the most successful gardening season of your life, but as the weather gets colder you’re reaping in the last of your summer harvest.
Most people associate gardening with the warmth of summer, but that is far from the case. All gardening is good gardening and fall is the perfect time to try your hand with some cold season crops or prepare your garden for a bountiful Spring.
Not all crops love the warmer temperatures and longer sun exposure that summer provides. When choosing crops to plant in the fall you first have to consider which plants will be able to survive light frosts and when you should expect the first frost to occur in your region. Start by calculating your first frost date by using an online frost calculator or looking at when the first frost occurred in previous years. From there, work backward and determine when to plant various cold-hardy veggies using seed germination and harvest timelines.
Depending on which zone you are in, cold hardy vegetables will thrive well into October as temperatures are just starting to cool down. Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collards, arugula and mustard greens all do well when planted around 10 weeks before the first frost. Other hardy veggies, like broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, celery, carrots, green onions, leeks, parsnips and cabbage, also enjoy the crisp autumn temperatures when planted around 12 weeks before the first frost. If it is already later into the season, beets and radishes can be planted around 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost.
If you find yourself running short on time, don’t worry! You can extend your fall season by two to three weeks just by adding a cold frame or covering your veggies on cold nights. Keep a careful eye on the weather and watch for extreme temperatures that dip below 20℉. Some veggies will be able to withstand the bitter cold, but others are not as hardy, so be sure to check how much cold your plants will be able to tolerate.
Autumn is also a perfect time to focus on preparing your garden for the spring or even getting a head start on some winter gardening. As the summer winds down, be sure to collect the last of your harvest and then compost any plant material that is disease and pest free. Clear out your garden space and bury rich organic material, like decaying leaves or discarded crops, under a thin layer of soil to increase the nutrients in your soil. Take careful notes of what was most successful during the past season and what didn’t work as expected. Then, you can get a head start on your garden plan and layout for spring!
If you still find yourself craving the fresh produce from your garden, look into what crops might survive the winter in your region. With careful planning, you might be surprised by what hardy crops are able to withstand the frigid winter temperatures!