Even though it’s hot at the midpoint of summer, days begin to grow shorter and the nights cooler. For gardeners, it’s time to begin preparations for a fall vegetable garden.
You may be inundated with tomatoes, peppers and zucchini, but that’s not the end of the gardener’s year. Greens like spinach and chard; roots like carrots, radishes and turnips; along with cole crops, will keep you in fresh produce up to and sometimes past the first frost. If you’re not familiar with the term, cole crops are brassicas and belong to the mustard greens family. These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi.
Fall is the best season to start a garden. Edible gardening in fall means cooler weather for weeding, and fewer pests and diseases to manage. Fall tends to be a wetter season, so there’s less time spent watering.
And veggies love the cool weather, too. It’s not an old wives’ tale that greens tend to be sweeter after the first frost, when the starches convert to sugars.
To transition your vegetable garden from summer to fall, triage and decide which plants still have life in them. Any plants that show signs of disease can be placed in the trash, all others go to compost. As you clean the garden, rake layers of mulch to the side while you work. Replenish the soil by working compost into the top six to eight inches of soil.
This is a good time of year to run a soil test. The recommendations will inform how you amend your soil. Test kits are available at The Home Depot Garden Center and your local Cooperative Extension Service.
When planting your fall garden, keep the principle of crop rotation in mind. Gardeners rotate crops every year in order to refresh the soil and keep pests and diseases from building up. Keeping up with crop rotation is as simple as drawing a map of your garden each season. Brassicas should be grown in the same bed every third year.
Now is the time to start seeds for greens and other fall vegetables indoors. You have plenty of time to get them in the ground for growing time before the first frost. When planning your garden, find the average date of first frost in your area, and read your seed packet to find out the days to maturity, working back to pick the optimal time to plant the seedlings.
Seeds for tender greens like spinach and lettuce can be directly sown in the soil. However, some seeds will not germinate if temperatures exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep the soil cool and moist, protect the seeds with a layer of burlap or newspaper.
Lettuce and other tender greens are easiest to sow in containers. Just fill a container with good quality organic potting mix, just thumb the seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep and cover lightly with moistened soil. Check soil daily to make sure seeds do not dry out. Sow seeds every week or two for a steady supply of fresh greens.
If you’re not into seeds, planting vegetable seedlings make sense when you have a short growing season as in northern zones, or get a late start on sowing. Vegetable starts will be available in your nearby Home Depot Garden Center when they’re ready to plant in your garden.
FOLLOW THESE TIPS FOR A FANTASTIC FALL VEGETABLE GARDEN:
- Select a site that gets six to eight hours of sunlight a day.
- Amend with organic compost, working it into the soil.
- Use an organic fertilizer formulated for edibles.
- Plants may show signs of heat stress early in the fall season. Keep an eye on them and water as needed.
- Be smart and put your frost plan in play as you plant. If you’ll be using row cover, put the framing up now, so it will be ready when temperatures drop. If you have a cold frame, make sure it’s good to go. If you don’t have one, now’s the time to buy or make.
More reading on seed starting: