Even though summer temperatures have finally climbed to average and above-average highs, it’s definitely time to think about what to plant for the lovely fall growing season.
If you haven’t planted a fall garden before, let me review why it’s awesome: Cooler temperatures support the growth of our favorite spring veggies, so if you didn’t get your fill of fresh greens and root veggies, there’s plenty more to come. Cooler temperatures also cause our favorite fall veggies to store sugar, making them extra sweet and flavorful. There’s less watering and weeding, and the cold causes pests to scram. And a properly planned and protected fall garden can last through the winter, providing homegrown veggies until spring.
So, how do you get started?
Now is a great time to sow fall crops of lettuce, kale, spinach, chard, cilantro, and collards in flats or pots in a shady, cool place (either indoors or in a protected spot with access to morning sun, but protection from strong afternoon sun). Because high temperatures can impact successful germination, be sure to water frequently—sometimes as often as twice a day. Some growers have even been known to cover their seedling trays with ice, or store them in the refrigerator to ensure that germination won’t be halted by excess heat. Early August is the ideal time to start these plantings, so they will be ready to set out once summer heat begins to taper off in September.
Later in summer—late August until mid-September—is the ideal time to direct-seed root crops like beets, carrots, turnips, and radishes. Again, these plants will benefit from being planted in a cooler, shadier spot in the garden, and like spring sowings, will need to be thinned as they mature. These crops can also be succession-planted throughout September to ensure a steady harvest, and you can direct-seed quick-growing lettuce, arugula, and radishes into October. As temperatures drop and daylight diminishes, remember that these plants will not grow quite as quickly. According to Dave O’Neill from Radical Roots Community Farm, fall plantings should be 90 percent mature by the first frost (typically in late October or early November) to ensure a fall harvest.
It’s probably already a bit too late to start long-lived vegetable plants from seed for harvest in the fall, including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, and Brussels sprouts. However, many local nurseries now offer an extended selection of these plants, so if you can find seedlings, it’s certainly not too late to transplant them. If possible, protect these plants from baking afternoon sun, either in the shade of taller plants, or by covering with shade cloth. And if you really want to grow these out from seed, just be prepared to wait until February or March for harvest.
Need more info? Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has a wealth of information for successful fall gardening on its website—www.southernexposure.com. And don’t forget to place your seed order for fall plantings.
Guinevere Higgins is owner of Blue Ridge Backyard Harvest, which provides consultation, design, and installations for home-scale edible gardens. When she’s not gardening, she works in fundraising for the Center for a New American Dream.