Hopefully, by the time that midsummer is smoldering, your garden is on its way to a good start. Although everything is up and growing, don’t tuck those extra seeds that you always seem to end up with away just yet. Just as some farmers double-crop soybeans, some vegetables lend themselves well for a fall garden which means that fall can provide double bounties with some crops.
Actually, fall planting can be easier and more enjoyable than spring for gardening. Autumn usually brings less watering because of cooler temperatures, fewer insects and diseases and more pleasant working conditions. The soil is already warmer than in May which means that seeds will germinate much faster.
Timing is the biggest issue for fall planting. Be sure and check the frost dates for your area and the maturity dates for the seeds that you want to double-crop. The Old Farmer’s Almanac will list first frost dates and is a good guideline to go by. Many garden seeds have maturity dates under ninety days and, if planting in mid-July or early August, there is plenty of time for the veggies to mature.
Even if the maturity dates are edging near the first frost date, you can protect your plants by covering them. I know, no one likes to mess with covering plants or bringing them in at night, but this is no different in fall than when you do it in early spring. Here in Michigan that is pretty much the norm.
Some plants grow as well or better in fall as they do in spring and some are even frost-tolerant. Spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli and kale are prime examples. Swiss chard requires only 25 days until it is edible. Kale is a winter staple. Fall-planted spinach actually does better than that planted in spring. It matures in cooler weather and will winter over if mulched. It is extra early and crisp in spring.
Summer squash and zucchini mature in 45 to 50 days. Last year, friends and family knew that whenever they saw me, I would be bearing a zucchini and I don’t blame them for running the other way. After all, a person can only eat so many zucchini in so many ways during one season. So, this year I have a couple summer plants and am putting a couple more out for fall. By then, they will taste good again.
Cucumbers withstand cooler temps and lend themselves well to fall planting with most varieties maturing in 50 days. Bush beans can be double-cropped also. Care needs to be taken to cover them if a frost is imminent though.
Snap peas and snow peas start to bear in 60 days and mature in colder weather, cool and crisp. Pea vines can withstand temperatures down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Photo property of Lois Hoffman.
Some root crops are excellent choices for fall planting. Radishes mature in 25 days, which means you can plant several crops during the season to ensure that you always have them fresh for salads. Carrots, beets and turnips have longer maturity dates but actually get sweeter as days get cooler. My Dad would plant over an acre of turnips as a cover crop to help keep weeds down after other crops were done in our truck garden. He gave them away free and fall was the prime time that people would stop to harvest either the greens, turnips themselves or both. Parsnips are actually planted with the intention of letting them lay in the ground through the winter. When dug in the spring, they are a sweet and tender treat.
Broccoli and kohlrabi mature well in cold weather and are not bothered as much by the cabbage moth larvae as in spring. Later cabbage is also excellent, especially if making sauerkraut. It is much nicer to do this task when the temps are cooler.
Salad greens are also excellent choices. I usually end up planting three or four times during the year to ensure that I have fresh lettuce for salads throughout summer and fall. Leaf varieties can be cut multiple times but then they tend to get tough. The good thing is that lettuce seeds grow fast and it can be cut at any stage of its growing cycle. In direct contrast to planting after the soil has warmed in the spring, lettuce seeds sometimes do not weather the hot soil too well so sometimes so it is beneficial to start seeds in flats and keep them well watered and shaded until they are big enough to withstand the warmer conditions.
Asian greens like napa, talsoi, pac choi and miguna can weather a frost and even a hard freeze, if protected. Argula is another green that can withstand quite cold temps. Some of these greens are closely related to mustard and their tangy leaves add a bite to fall salads.
Don’t forget about herbs either. Ones like rosemary, parsley, cilantro, thyme, chives, lavender and mint grow just as well in fall. They lend themselves well to containers. You can even get creative and plant two or three different ones in a container with flowers so you can just step out your back door and have fresh herbs for seasoning.
Fall gardens offer benefits that a summer garden can’t. What I especially like is that you can have fresh salad right outside your door for nearly half the year. It also takes the headache out of everything ripening at once. There have been times that I literally did not know which vegetable to can or freeze first. With some ripening in the fall, it lets you preserve at a more leisurely pace.
Another advantage to the fall garden is that it takes less ground to produce the same amount of vegetables. When a summer crop is done, the space can be tilled up and used over for fall planting. By tilling this ground up, you also get rid of some garden pests who have laid their eggs in the soil.
With a little ingenuity, fall can definitely extend the growing season. Yeah, it can mean a little more work, but who doesn’t like fresh from the garden for as long as you can have it!