Fall Veggie Garden: What And When to Plant, and Cold Weather Planting Benefits
It’s that time of year again. The one hundred degree days are waning into more mild temperatures, the sun is beginning to set just a little bit earlier, and your summer vegetable garden is started to drawback its plentiful bounty. While the season may be changing, it doesn’t necessarily mean an end to green thumb enthusiast activities. There are a host of vegetables that love to live on the colder side of the season.
Why Your Fall Garden Could be the Best Garden
You may have heard the saying that “autumn is the second spring,” when it comes to gardening and for good reason! There are a host of wonderful benefits that come with planning a garden harvest in late October and even into November.
Cool Weather Lends to Taste and Texture
Even though each vegetable variety has a preferred time to mature, the Spring and Fall seasons are especially favored for hardier veggies. Fall weather infuses your naturally tough and bitter vegetables with a less harsh sun-filled day and an increasingly cooler temperature at night. This mixture lends to sweeter flavors, soften toughness, and crisper textures.
Great Weather for the Gardener
Cool weather isn’t just good for the veggies, but also for the gardener. After a summer of laboring under the blasting 100-degree sun, the cool temperatures that arrive in September, October, and November are oftentimes some of the happiest times to be out in the garden. While everyone else begins to sequester themselves indoors, the Fall gardener simply pulls on a sweatshirt and gloves and heats up in the garden. This not only keeps you active and moving, but it allows the gardener to enjoy Fall like no one else can.
By planning ahead, you can actually extend your summer garden, generally planted in late July to August, further into the Fall season. For those of you who began in early Spring (generally around April after the last frost), this means you can squeeze in between eight to even nine months of gardening through November (or through the first frost in your particular climate).
Hardier Spring Garden
Last, but definitely not least, by continuing your gardening practices into the cold weather season, you ensure a hardy garden the next spring. This is due to perfect garden soil conditions in the Fall. During the day, your garden’s soil is continuing to soak up warmth from the sun and at night your plant’s roots are cocooned and safe. This retention of heat encourages root growth, building up a strong root base for the following planting season.
Timing and Preparation
With that said, it’s all about the right preparation from the get-go, as well as planting your vegetables at the right rotating times. As the temperature decreases, plants begin to go dormant. This is how they survive between seasons, by saving up their energy, encasing their roots in a deep safe soil, and preparing for the first frost that will effectively disable whatever part of the plant remains above ground. While this may seem like a melancholy time of year for the plant, it’s actually great for the gardener.
In order to have a healthy Fall garden, it’s important to understand plant dormancy. In short, dormancy refers to a period in an organism’s life, such as plants, in which “growth, development, and (in animals) physical activity are temporarily stopped.” By halting these particular systems, the organism decreases their metabolic activity, conserves energy, and survives to see another spring, summer, and fall.
With that said, dormancy makes gardening much easier!
Dormant plants don’t need as much water. If you live in a climate with snowfall, then don’t worry about watering throughout the winter. For those without snowfall, plant to give your plants a little dosing every four weeks or so. Not bad at all! Also, for a hardier spring awakening, make sure to give your plants a little fertilizing help. Yet, make sure to choose a fertilizer low in nitrogen. Nitrogen encourages blooming growth, which is the opposite type of growth you want in a Fall garden. If you’re planting seeds for the Fall, simply “count back 12 o 14 weeks from your average first fall frost date,” and you’ve got the perfect indoor seed starting time! After three weeks, transplant into your prepared Fall garden bed.
When to plant is completely dependent on the particular climate you’re planting in and the type of winter hardy crop you’re planting. Some areas in California stay above 50 degrees all winter long, while areas in the mid-west may plummet far below zero for extended periods of time.
With that said, it’s really all about the first frost.
Above, I mentioned the perfect seed planting time as 12 to 14 weeks before the first Fall frost. This is most likely going to be different in almost every state across the country. Once you’ve got your seedlings set, you’ll want to try and hit the target window of planting in the soil eight to 10 weeks before the first Fall frost. Mother Earth News, an incredible resource for everything gardening, offers a great break down of Fall planting for all of the cold weather hardy plants!
5 Fall Hardy Veggies
Now you know how, but what are you going to plant this Fall? Choosing what to plant is one of the most important aspects of Fall gardening success. Many veggies don’t do well once the temperature begins to drop. On the other hand, there are a host of hardier vegetables that love the cold weather and will actually taste better under Fall weather conditions. Here are just a few of the hardier vegetables that may get you going on your Fall garden!
We all know that broccoli is incredibly nutritious, but it’s also one of the most popular veggies for cold weather planting. From the seed, make sure to count back 85 to 100 days before the first frost. For transplants, simply determine the number of days to maturity for your specific brand, add 10 days, and then count back to the first frost date. Plant your broccoli 15 to 24 inches apart in slightly acidic, well-drained soil and place in full sun.
Once your broccoli matures, try a few of these broccoli-based recipes: Broccoli and Caramelized Onion Hummus Pizza, Quinoa Pilaf With Spicy Tempeh and Broccoli, or this 10-Minute Broccoli and Almond Parmesan Pasta.
This familiarly white, cabbage family vegetable follows on the heals in popularity for Fall gardening top picks. Cauliflower does best when grown in consistently cool temperatures, preferring the climate to remain in the 60’s throughout its growing time period. Seasoned gardeners will be wary of growing cauliflower from the seed, due to the challenges of keeping the soil the right temperature, therefore it’s best to start from a transplant. You’ll need organically enriched soil and at least six full hours of sunlight. Plant your cauliflower 18 to 24 inches apart and make sure to get them in the ground at least two to four weeks before the first frost.
Once your cauliflower matures, try a few of these broccoli-based recipes: Butternut Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, Cauliflower Sauce Risotto With Herbs and Kale Chips, or these Sweet and Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower Wings.
Kale is an excellent Fall crop choice due to the fact that it can tolerate moderate frosts. Plus, this is one of those special vegetables that tastes sweeter and grows crisper in cooler temperatures. With that said, if you plant to have an autumn kale harvest, you need to plan ahead. If planting from the seedling, you’ll need to get your kale in the ground in early summer in order to keep it growing through the first frost. Make sure your kale plants have plenty of room to breathe, at least eight to 12 inches apart (if not more), as well as fertilized and well-draining soil.
If you’re new to the gardening world, one of the first lessons you’ll learn is the difficulty of planting spinach in the spring. While spinach loves that cool weather, if you live in a climate where the days go from 60 to 90 degrees in a relatively short period of time, you’ll witness your wonderful spinach bolting and becoming inedible. This is why spinach makes a great addition to your Fall gardening. It’s recommended to plant your spinach 10 weeks before the first frost. Another great thing about spinach is that you can actually “overwinter” some varieties, which means to grow throughout the winter!
These useful, colorful root veggies are a particular favorite in most vegetable gardens. While they’re great in the spring and summer, they are also a great Fall vegetable. Carrots enjoy well-drained, tilled, rock-free, loamy soil that has not too much and not too little-added fertilizer. Like most vegetables, it’s important that carrots get full sunlight. It’s recommended to plant carrots at least 10 to 12 weeks before the first frost.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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This content was originally published here.