Having the ability to sustain yourself through your own homegrown food is a joy everyone should experience. Like the old saying says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” There is no better reward for gardeners than enjoying the fruits of their hard labor in a delicious bliss.
Even though gardening is considered a summer hobby, the rewards don’t have to stop when the days get shorter. With a little planning and work, you can keep on enjoying your homegrown vegetables well into the fall months. Fall gardening offers some of the easiest, most stress-free gardening opportunities possible – no scorching heat, fewer pests, fewer weeds, and possibly the best-tasting vegetables you’ve ever had!
Before You Get Started…
Before you get started on your fall vegetables, give your garden a healthy dose of an organic fertilizer or mix in compost. This will help replenish the soil’s nutrients after your original garden plants have used it up. Clear space in your garden after harvesting beans or lettuce or after the plants have bolted (which means it is flowering and creating seeds), and turn the dirt and begin adding mulch from grass clippings or plant waste. Don’t let plants that you won’t be harvesting any longer just sit in your garden – they’ll continue to take up nutrients and precious space.
Check your soil’s pH (how acidic or alkaline the soil is). Vegetables prefer soils with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. If your soil’s pH is too low, use agricultural lime or firewood ash to raise it. If your pH is too high, which usually isn’t the case, use aluminum sulfate or compost to help lower it. These amendments won’t have an instant effect, so continue to check your soil’s pH every few weeks.
Late July and Early August Planting
Late July and early August is the perfect time to begin preparing garden for a fall harvest. Sure, it’s unbearably hot, and you might wonder how little sprouts and seedlings could survive heat waves and a possible absence of rain, but planting certain types of tomatoes, corn, beans, and root vegetables planted now will make you a happy gardener down the road.
Consider heat-resistant tomato varieties. These varieties will be ready for harvest within 70 to 80 days, well before the first frost date. For best results, start seeds indoors in May, or buy a few plants that are already established from your local greenhouse.
Some gardeners simply cut down a few of their tomatoes in August, after they get a good yield, in hopes that new growth will continue into the fall. However, this plan doesn’t always work, especially with zones that face extreme fluctuations in temperatures towards the end of summer.
String beans and green beans are one of the easiest plants to grow, and they’re very heat tolerant. If you already had a good harvest from bean plants you planted in May, now is a great time to make room for more. Pull out your bean plants that look weak and expended and plant new seeds in their place.
Corn germinates and thrives in hot weather, and a July or August planting is a great time to take advantage of this. Consider varieties that mature earlier than other types, that way you don’t risk getting into the cooler temperatures of September.
Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and beets can be planted in July or August if you have the space. Till the ground, sow the seeds directly in the soil, and keep the ground moist. If you’re really in the mood to have an abundance of these root veggies, plant some in August and then again in September.
August and September for Vegetables to Remember
Experienced fall gardeners will tell you that a little chill in the air makes for crisper, more flavorful vegetables. Many fall vegetables can survive a frost or two. For most zones, the first chance of frost begins in October. Keep in mind – these vegetables will grow a bit slower than they would in summer due to the reduced sunlight. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, peas, beans, potatoes, lettuce, kale, and spinach are the hardiest of fall vegetables and should be on your “To Grow” list.
Before starting, remove any old vegetable plants that aren’t producing anymore and till the garden with a garden fork or shovel. If you plan on sowing seeds directly in the soil, you’ll want to keep the soil constantly moist but not to the point of standing water.
For beans and peas, plant these in mid-August or early September. While these vegetables enjoy mild weather, they won’t tolerate frost more than once or twice. Sow these seeds directly in the soil and keep the ground moist.
For the root vegetables, sow the seeds or buds directly in the ground – the warm ground will aid in quick germination.
For broccoli, lettuce, and spinach plants, start the seeds indoors in June, or buy established plants from a garden center. If you’ve grown lettuce, kale, or spinach before, you know how quickly it can bolt and get bitter. In some zones, you can’t even plant these vegetables in May because the temperatures get so hot so quick! Planting these vegetables late in the summer reduces the likelihood of bolting, giving you crisper, sweeter, and more flavorful greens.
Baseball season ends, the days get shorter, the kids go back to school, and gardeners stop planting and harvesting at the end of August or September. Are you anxious to escape this drab routine? While October is a bit late in the fall vegetable growing season, you can still try your hand at planting root vegetables, onion, cauliflower (watch out for slugs), broccoli, and kale. Keep these plants covered with mulch or burlap to help prevent over exposure to frost.