Though you may still be in summer-harvest mode, picking zucchini, tomatoes, and basil every night, the fact is, we’re at the end of August. Autumn is just around the corner. But don’t pack away your gardening gloves yet. Plant a fall garden to extend the harvesting season.
Fall crops typically need extra time to mature because they receive less daylight as the season winds down. That means, by the time many people start thinking about fall crops, it’s already too late. Many desirable fall crops like broccoli and carrots need several months of prime-growing conditions to mature before frost and low light levels set in. They need to be planted in July or early August.
But some fast growing fall crops like lettuce, spinach, and radishes can be planted into late September. Cool weather brings out the best flavor in many vegetables. In spring, temperatures often heat up rapidly, causing crops like lettuce and spinach to bolt and become bitter. Fall is a great time to plant these tender greens.
Plus, cool weather allows crops to hold longer in the garden once mature. Crops like broccoli, cabbage, and kale can live for months in the garden after they reach maturity. Even fast-growing crops like spinach, cilantro, and lettuce will hold their quality for much longer when planted for fall harvest.
The fall harvest can be extended further by planting in cold frames or hotbeds, or providing other frost protection: cover the beds with burlap or floating row covers, or protect individual plants using milk jugs, paper caps or water walls. If a hard freeze is imminent, mulch heavily around root crops such as carrots and radishes.
When choosing seeds, look for fast-maturing varieties and cold-tolerant varieties. As a general rule, plan your planting so that the crops have time to reach maturity before the first frost.
Here are some fall planting ideas:
• You can plant beet seeds about 8 to 10 weeks before the first expected frost. Beets harvested in fall have stronger colors than spring-planted beets. Use the beet greens in salads, or harvest beets in time for the holidays.
• Kale and radishes can be sown from August 15 to September 1.
• Most kinds of salad greens can thrive during fall growing conditions. Greens need a relatively short amount of time to mature, so you can plant them through August and into September.
• Onions that mature between 60-80 days can be planted from September 1 to September 15.
• In some parts of Zone 7, October is essentially frost free, so some crops can be started even later for a really late fall harvest. Crops such as beets, Swiss chard, kale, and kohlrabi can all be sown at the beginning of September. Collards and cabbages can be transplanted at this time.
• Chinese cabbage, parsley, peas, and turnips can all be sown in the second week of September. Leaf lettuce can be planted until October 1, and mustard greens and radishes will still have time to grow if in the ground by October 15.
• BONUS: In mid-fall, plant garlic cloves for spring harvest. Plant four to six inches apart. Push each clove at least one inch into the ground before covering with soil and six inches of mulch for winter protection.
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