Planting the Fall Vegetable Garden
One way to improve our mood about summer’s end approaching is to plant a fall vegetable garden and look forward to a continued harvest. While summer vegetables may be starting to fade, this is the time to get your fall crop in the ground and off to a good start for the next growing season.
What to Plant for Fall
Vegetables that can thrive in the fall garden include salad greens, spinach, kale, peas, carrots, beets and broccoli. Feel more adventurous? Try chard, endive, kohlrabi, turnips, or oriental vegetables like Chinese cabbage and bok choy. Brussels sprouts, anyone? Those love fall weather, too. These plants like the cooler weather, and can also do well under the cover of a cold frame even when the first snowflakes start to fly. But let’s not think about snow just yet! In fact, some vegetables actually do better in the fall garden than they would during the summer. For instance, spinach prefers the moist fall weather and cooler temperatures. Get a crop going, and you may find yourself harvesting into the winter!
Amending the Soil in the Fall
To prepare your garden, rake out any dead or dying plants and of course, any weeds. Till the soil to loosen it and work in a nice deep 2-inch layer of organic compost. You may also want to mix in some organic fertilizer. Spinach in particular needs some good plant food, so if you’re planting spinach the fertilizer is especially important.
For salad greens, you can sow seeds by scattering them on the surface of the soil you have just tilled, then just cover them lightly with compost or enriched topsoil. If you have clay soil – which is so common in our area – know that it can form a crust and challenge your germinating seedlings. A good solution is to cover the seeds with compost instead of garden soil. Spread a bit of compost over the scattered seeds, and then just pat them lightly with your hand, and they’ll be at a good depth to get started in germinating. For other fall garden crops, seeds should be planted deeper, at about a quarter inch depth and at least half an inch apart – more for larger vegetables like kale, which should be spaced up to two inches apart when sowing seeds. Spacing between rows should be 6 to 8 inches.
Watering Guide for Fall Vegetable Gardens
Watering is important for the fall vegetable garden, especially when seedlings are first emerging. Watering in the early morning and at dusk will help your plants stay properly hydrated. (A small investment in a sprinkler timer is a great idea!)
Organic Pest Removal
Keep your seedlings thinned out properly, which will help their leaves gather sunlight properly and will also cut down on pesky garden slugs. You can also keep those at bay the natural way by putting a shallow dish of beer in the garden, in which they will drown. Or, you can splash your plants with a cold caffeinated beverage like coffee or tea – caffeine is a neurotoxin for slugs – but do it at night when the slugs are actively feeding on your plants.
Harvesting the Fall Garden
If you don’t have a cold frame, you can cover your greens when frost is predicted with a cardboard box or an old blanket. Some gardeners have luck protecting greens in this way, even when evening temperatures dip into the 20’s. Once plants are in full growing mode, you can harvest spinach and lettuce leaves individually by cutting them an inch above the soil. That way, the plant will keep producing delicious greens to enjoy even in the late fall.