A common mistake among new gardeners is forgetting to plant the fall garden early enough. A perfectly-timed fall garden is, in fact, started in summer – not fall! Sure, you’re still harvesting zucchini and perhaps the tomatoes aren’t yet ripe but we’re now on the other side of the summer solstice when days are gradually getting shorter and crops will begin growing slower. So, all the while pulling weeds and plucking peppers, you’ll want to be gearing up to plant your fall garden!
The main reason for starting fall crops so early is that they need time to mature and finish before the first frost. There are many helpful tools for helping to determine your hardiness zone and first frost date. Here in Zone 6b/7, we mark November 15th as our first official frost date and we use this date to track backwards on the calendar to determine planting dates. The back of every seed pack will show the Days to Maturity so you’ll subtract this number of days from the average first frost date, adding 1-2 weeks to account for slower growing after the summer solstice. Take for example, Brussels Sprouts: The average Days to Maturity is 95 days or 12-14 weeks. So tracking backwards from November 15th puts us planting Brussels Sprouts between August 1-9. Of course, you can hone in on exact days for planting with the moon using a biodynamic or moon phase calendar. Should frost come earlier than anticipated, don’t worry! For many crops, getting touched by frost actually improves the flavor as long as it is one that can tolerate the chill.
Won’t fall starts cook or bolt in the summer sun? In a recent newsletter, we shared some ways to keep the garden cool and thriving in summer through proper watering techniques, mulching, and by tacking up shade cloth. These techniques will all be useful to keep fall seedlings alive and thriving through the heat. Some crops like radish, beets, and carrots will germinate best when soil temperatures are warmer and will therefore benefit from planting earlier whereas other crops like broccoli and collard greens will prefer to be started indoors and transplanted out after it cools down.
Once you’ve determined when you’ll need to start your fall crops (likely now or very soon!), the next thing to do is to figure out what to plant and then use the calendar to mark down specific planting dates. Before planting your fall garden, it would be wise to reinvigorate the soil with some fresh compost and perhaps some all-purpose fertilizer and Azomite to re-mineralize potentially depleted soil.
There are a number of references and guides for knowing what to plant when but Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast by Ira Wallace is a Fifth Season go-to! This book is organized both by crop so you can learn more about growing habits and individual varieties, as well as by month if you want a full download of just what to do, in say,
August. It is also helpful for knowing what to start indoors versus starting from seed and even which summer crops there’s still time to succession plant before frost. Keep in mind that a number of fall crops are root vegetables and those will be direct seeded. Here’s a general list of what to consider growing in your fall garden:
- Plant early (longer days to maturity and/or not frost tolerant): Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, snap/snow peas, cauliflower, cilantro, broccoli, cabbage; herbs! (cilantro,
- Plant later (fewer days to maturity and/or heat sensitive): Beets, carrots, parsnips, kohlrabi, turnips, leeks, arugula, spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, fall lettuces, Asian greens, bok choy
- Overwinters (plant in fall, harvest in spring): Garlic, onions, shallots
So, here’s what to do now to get ready for fall gardening!
- Check your seed stock and conduct a germination test on a paper towel to assess which are viable. Make a shopping list and visit Fifth Season in-store or online for to purchase your fall seeds
- Stock up on soil, flat trays, soil, inserts, labels, humidomes, and more for indoor propagation
- Remove debris in the garden and check soil pH
- Add compost, fertilizer, and amendments as needed
By now we hope you’re feeling excited about starting your fall garden. We know all too well how easy it is to fall into a rut with the garden in the middle of summer as the enthusiasm of spring planting has faded. Fall is the perfect season for gardening and perhaps my favorite for several reasons! For one, it is less hot and that means less watering. There are fewer pests to contend with and less plant disease due to lower temperatures. The diversity of all crops – from greens to root veggies – offers so much color and they tend to store longer than those grown in spring and summer. Lastly, fall is the season for planting garlic and you’ll soon find out how excited we get for garlic season!
Not interested in starting your seedlings? No problem! By late August we’ll have our all organic cool-weather starts ready to sell! Stay tuned!