Warminster, Pennsylvania – Looking to put in a fall vegetable garden? W. Atlee Burpee & Co., long-time plant and seed purveyor, offers advice on successfully cultivating a last-minute garden.
While much of the country is just now beginning to enjoy the summer harvest, many gardeners are quickly realizing that time is running out to plant fall crops.
"August and September are ideal months for planting vegetables for fall harvest," says George Ball, chairman of W. Atlee Burpee & Co. "But because these months also coincide with the summer yield, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the harvest, forgetting to plant fall crops in time to reach full maturity before the threat of frost."
Still, Ball says that folks who may be running short on time to plant their fall kitchen gardens shouldn't be discouraged. "With proper planning," Ball says, "the turn-around time for fall produce can be as early as 60 days or less."
For those caught up in the race to the "cool season kitchen garden" finish line, Burpee offers advice for late planting using an easy-to-follow process Burpee calls F.A.L.L.
(F) Find Out How Much Time You Have
"Start with some basic planning and research," says Ball. Begin by determining the anticipated frost date in your locale. From there, refer to a calendar to determine precisely how many days you have left before the first frost is expected to hit and the date you expect to have your vegetable garden planted.
(A) Add Early Maturing Varieties to Your List
After assessing the amount of time between the day they will plant their fall crops and the number of days until the anticipated first frost, gardeners can now begin researching and compiling a list of vegetable candidates for their fall garden.
"You'll want to select varieties that will reach maturity before frost is expected to occur," says Ball. Thanks to research and breeding, there are an array of quick maturing lettuces and vegetables available today. "Spinach Baby's Leaf Hybrid, for example reach maturity for salads in just thirty days," says Ball.
(L) Leave a Margin for Error
Because weather is unpredictable, Ball advises leaving some margin for error.
"The calendar may tell you that you have a full 65 days before the first frost is expected to hit. But because frost dates are only averages, it is best to be prepared for that worst case scenario – cold weather arriving earlier than anticipated."
Ball says that there are a few ways gardeners can prepare for unexpected spells of cold weather.
"Give yourself a bit of leeway. If the anticipated frost date is 65 days away, try to limit the number of varieties you select to just a few that take a full 60 or 65 days to mature," says Ball. "Opt to include mostly varieties with an expected maturity date one week prior to the anticipated frost date."
Also beneficial, says Ball, is to have weather protective gardening supplies on hand should you receive last-minute news that frost is headed your way.
"There are lots of great products that can be used to safeguard plants from unusually cold nights and even frost. We use an item called TunLcover to protect our plants at the research farm. It works like a mini-greenhouse by keeping inside temperatures up to 25 degrees warmer than outside air, so plants are protected from frost and wind chill.”
(L) Learn for Next Season
"Gardening is very much a process of trial and error, but perfecting our skills is what keeps us gardeners interested in the hobby," says Ball. "With that said, the final step is to take note of what you learned from this year's garden when planning and planting next year's plot."
"Make note of this year's planting and harvest dates to determine if you should plant earlier or harvest later next year. Monitor your garden's progress by watching how the plants respond to the changing way light and wind affect the garden as trees lose their leaves and as the days become shorter and the nights become colder."
For more tips and videos from Burpee's, please visit Burpee's online for these fall gardening articles:Fall Vegetable Container Gardening