This past week was glorious. I loved the cool days and rain. It’s fall.
Fall makes most folks think about football and hunting seasons, but not gardening. Yet fall gardening is one of the best times of the year.
Yes, the fall vegetable garden is just as much a possibility as a spring one, just different. Establishing a fall garden is different as you may work in some heat up-front. Watering is also approached with a different mind-set. Water will be crucial to establishing the summer growing vegetables.
Mulching, a wonderful practice for all gardens, will be much easier with the abundance of leaves on the ground. Just a light layer of mulch will greatly aid in keeping moisture in the soil next to the developing roots and keep weeds at bay.
Pest control for fall gardens should be less. Insect problems that are commonly experienced in the spring will be reduced. Disease issues that arise from cool, moist environments will also be diminished.
The biggest proponents of fall vegetable gardens will always brag on the harvest. Harvested produce in milder weather are reported to taste better. The time spent harvesting, choosing which squash or beans to pick, is obviously more comfortably done.
Yet with fall gardening, you’ll have a hard deadline from many common, warm-season vegetables. That deadline is our first frost.
Most vegetables traditionally grown in the spring and summer must beat the frost. Now the average first frost for this area is mid- November. The key word is average. Sometimes it may be near Christmas, and other times it will be prior to Halloween.
Last year we saw a very early freeze. It was on the first day of November that my thermometer plummeted to 22 F. To be clear, that’s not normal. Our historical average for the first frost is the middle of November. Frosts, incidentally, are where the temperature dips just below 32 F.
To extend frost sensitive crops, you can use a row cover. Purchased locally or online, these thin fabric covers can give a few degrees of protection. And for our first frost, just a few degrees is all we need. Available in a wide variety of widths and lengths, they serve double duty for keeping insects off young tender plants.
Looking ahead, we have approximately 50 days from the end of September to mid-November. With that time frame, it would be wise to ignore traditional spring/summer vegetables. Generally a frost (31-33 degrees F.) will kill beans, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peas, pepper, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, and watermelon.
I’d suggest you consider broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, mustard, onion, radish, and turnip. They’ll take colder temperatures (26-31 degrees F.). Their foliage may burn but should be killed.
For true cold, really cold, weather tolerance plant beets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, collards, kale, parsley, and spinach.
So while you are out on a deer blind or watching a football game, remember that with proper selection and proper planting time, we can grow vegetables this fall, thru the winter and we’ll be ready for next spring.