Fall Gardening Tips
The spring is usually the time when we excitedly pull out seed packets and get busy in the garden. But the fall presents another opportunity to harvest rich flavor and nutrition right from your doorstep. Certain vegetables actually produce better in the fall: root vegetables famously become sweeter and crunchier as temperatures drop, and salad greens and brassica (cabbage) family vegetables thrive in cooler weather without bolting. Here are a few simple steps to help your garden transition from summer to fall.
Harvest remaining summer crops. Tomatoes, okra, pumpkin and winter squash will continue to produce until late in the fall.
Remove any crops that are no longer producing, and compost the plant matter (unless diseased or infested with pests). It’s not necessary to pull up plants by the root; instead, cut the stem off at the ground level and leave the root in the ground. As it slowly rots, it will provide food for soil critters and add organic matter to the soil.
Finish preparing the beds with spreading a nice layer of organic compost. You can give your fall plants some extra love by adding biochar or mycorrhizal inoculant – ask at your local garden store.
What are good vegetables for the fall season? All of these thrive in the cooler weather, and will make a colorful harvest for October, November, and beyond:
Cabbage (brassica) family vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, mustard
Root vegetables: carrot, beet, parsnip, turnip, and rutabaga
Peas and fava beans. Fava beans can even overwinter and become one of your first harvestable crops in the spring!
Salad greens, such as spinach, lettuce, arugula, mache, chickweed. Arugula is particularly cold-hardy.
Cool-season herbs such as cilantro, dill, and parsley
Swiss chard, radish, garlic, shallots, and bunching onions
For a planting schedule, check the Farmer’s Almanac online planting calendar.
If you missed the window of seeding cabbage and broccoli in the summer, you can still get seedlings from garden stores. Cabbage family plants are heavy feeders on calcium, so a good tip is to spread crushed eggshells around the plants. This will keep slugs away, too. Broccoli also needs a lot of nitrogen, so amend the soil with an organic fertilizer.
Dress vegetable starts with compost when transplanting, and spread a generous layer of mulch to help keep the soil cool during the hot days of September.
If you want to take a break from growing vegetables in a given bed, seed a fall or winter cover crop, such as winter rye or alfalfa. A cover crop helps to loosen compacted soil, suppress weeds, and provide good growing conditions for your next crop. Our local Sow True Seeds sells both fall and over-wintering cover crop mixes.
If growing from seed, keep the soil consistently moist until the seeds germinate.
As temperatures drop, protect crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce with row covers. This has the added benefit of providing protection from pests like slugs and cabbage worms. Staying on top of these munchers is a good idea anyway. Learn to identify them and look into organic pest control methods to keep them at bay.
The last step is the most rewarding, of course! Harvest cabbage and make home-made sauerkraut and kimchi for the winter. Enjoy the crunchy sweetness of carrots, beets and parsnips. Make salads from homegrown greens. Snack on last of the sweet peas. Sautée or steam the brassica family greens and Swiss chard. And then… start dreaming of your spring garden again.