While most of us are just excited to get some rain and see cooler weather, there is a tried-and-true group of folks who also think about planting vegetables in a fall garden. Yes, fall gardening is one of the best times of the year.
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 mindset. Water will be crucial to establishing the growing vegetables in the traditionally drier time of year than spring.
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 may also be diminished while early fall-planted seeds are getting started in the warmer days of summer.
The biggest proponents of fall vegetable gardens will always brag about the harvest. Harvested produce in milder weather is reported to taste better. The time spent harvesting, and choosing which squash or beans to pick, is obviously more comfortably done.
Yet with fall gardening, you’ll have a hard deadline for 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 before Halloween.
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 60 days from the middle 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 not be killed.
For true cold, really cold, weather tolerance plant beets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, collards, kale, parsley, and spinach.
So, while you are preparing your deer blind or watching a football game, remember that with proper selection and proper planting time, we can grow vegetables this fall, and through the winter and we’ll be ready for next spring.