Summer’s garden bounties are winding down with the change of the seasons, and many garden beds are cleaned out, readily awaiting the next planting. The great news is you don’t have to wait for spring to plant, even if you live in a colder climate! With a few provisions against climate and knowing the right information, it is possible to enjoy fresh vegetables well into the winter. In addition, keeping a fall and winter garden can keep your soil rich with nutrients while preventing weed growth. Lets take a look at how you can start today to prepare for a fall and winter garden.
1. Test And Replenish Your Soil
As with any season of planting, soil is your first concern. Areas vacated by summer crops will give you an idea of what should be planted in that area. If your summer garden had a bed of low-demand snow peas, you can plant in their place a high-feeding vegetable such as spinach. Leafy fall vegetable greens such as lettuce and mustard are great for planting in areas where corn grew over the summer. These plants can soak up excess nitrogen left behind by the corn crop.
Prior to planting any new crop, be sure to add extra compost or fertilizer to your beds, especially for crops that require rich soil. This will ensure that your fall and winter vegetables have all of the nutrients that they need to produce the best yields. If you are uncertain of the soil’s pH level, you may want to test that as well, prior to planting your fall crops.
2. Know Your Zone
Knowing and understanding your hardiness zone may seem basic, but it is important; it is especially key in understanding how much time you have to grow your fall and winter crops before it simply becomes too cold. Hardiness zones are established from an area’s minimum temperatures; the higher the zone number, typically the longer the growing season. Each zone also allows for different types of plants. Those in lower zones can still successfully grow a fall and winter garden but may need to be open to trying new crops and types of vegetable yields to do so.
As a general rule of thumb, here are the average dates in which the first frost happens in the various zones:
Zones 3 and 4: September 1st-30th
Zones 5 and 6: September 30th-October 30th
Zone 7: October 15th-November 15th
Zone 8: October 30th-November 30th
Zones 9 and 10: November 30th-December 30th
Zone 11: No frost
There are additional tips and tricks that can help those in cooler zones to extend their fall growing season and get the absolute most from their gardens.
3. Extend Your Growing Season
While gardeners in warmer climates have to worry less about early frosts and shorter growing seasons, those in lower zones have to pay special attention to clues in fall weather that proceed the first frost. Though cooler climates have limited time in their summer gardens and even shorter periods of time to establish a fall-winter garden, there are some additional tricks that can be used to stretch this season.
The use of row covers can extend a growing season by weeks. Made from lightweight material that is draped over a simple frame, these covers are easy and cost-effective. By using covers with porous material that allows air and moisture into the covering, plants can easily thrive well past the first frost. These covers provide effects similar to that of a greenhouse; they trap heat and sunlight, warming the temperatures of both the air and soil.
Another vital method for lower-zone gardening is to establish seedlings indoors while the weather is hot and the summer garden is still flourishing. This will eliminate several weeks of the growing process for cool-weather crops and give you a head start to your planting. Seedlings require a great amount of moisture, so be sure to accommodate for that both before and after transplant.
Further still, planting your cool-weather vegetables in rolling frames, rather than directly into the ground, will enable you to roll them indoors if there is a threat of harsh, cold weather.
4. Hardy Fall And Winter Plants
There are many cool weather plants that thrive during fall planting. The planting dates will vary among different climate zones, but generally should be planted anywhere between July and October for the best results. The easiest way to determine when to plant a certain vegetable is to consider the amount of time it takes to mature and produce vegetables; you can then calculate when you should plant in order to harvest before the first frost (or a couple of weeks after it if you’ve taken precautions against frost, such as row covers).
Broccoli. Broccoli is a cool-weather plant that almost always requires planting during the hot months, as its seedlings must be planted ten weeks prior to the first frost. To keep broccoli safe after transplanting into the garden, surround the seedlings with mulch to keep the ground both moist and cool. Using a low-nitrogen fertilizer on these seedlings for three weeks after transplanting will ensure their best results. These plants require seventy days to mature.
Cabbage. This broad-leafed plant is ideal for fall and winter gardens. It requires planting approximately six-eight weeks prior to the first frost. It is imperative to keep these plants cool, so if the heat of the summer extends into fall planting, protect cabbage seedlings from the sun. Cabbage plants are heavy feeders, so fertilization rich in organic composition and consistent moisture is important. These plants also require seventy days to mature.
Cauliflower. These finicky plants need to be planted as seedlings about six to eight weeks prior to the first frost. The more consistent you can be with cauliflower plants, the better results you will have. Rich soil and regular moisture is absolutely essential to quality cauliflower, which matures within sixty days.
Lettuce. Lettuce is the iconic plant of fall gardening. These plants grow best with seeds planted directly into the ground, rather than growing seedlings separate and transplanting. Be sure to protect these seedlings with plenty of shade from the sun and provide regular moisture. These plants mature within forty-five to sixty days.
Mustard Greens. Mustard grows exceptionally fast. Plant seeds directly into ground about six weeks prior to the first frost. These seeds will only germinate in soil that is between 45 and 85 degrees, so if you’re in a warmer climate, be sure to use mulch to keep the ground cool and moist. Consistent moisture is absolutely essential to the plant’s growth; allow for approximately forty-five days maturing.
Radishes. It is important to note the variety of radishes you are planting. Winter breeds, such as the China Rose, will need a longer growing time (plant six weeks prior to frost) than breeds not specifically tailored for cold weather (these types can be planted four weeks prior to the first frost). Radish plants mature quickly and are ready for harvest as soon as they reach an edible size, so be sure the check them frequently. Allow for twenty-two to forty-five days of maturing time, depending on the variety of seed used.
Rutabagas. These plants can be grown in spring sowing, but many gardeners agree that their flavor is better when planted in the fall. These should be planted about twelve weeks prior to the first frost, and in areas with hot days well into the fall months, they should not be planted until nighttime temperatures consistently reach about 50 or 60 degrees. Consistent moisture for these plants is vital, and they require about ninety days to mature.
Spinach. Spinach seeds should be sown about five weeks prior to the first frost. This plant is one of the most hardy cold-weather plants, and it will continue producing until the temperatures fall as low as 20 degrees. Ensure a rich and fertile soil prior to planting, and allow for forty-five days of maturing time.
Fall Gardening Success
Fall gardening can be just as rewording and fruitful as spring and summer gardening. With the right planning and preparation, you and your family can enjoy fresh garden vegetables well into the winter months. Follow the guidelines for your climate zone, growing season, and plant requirements, and you will have a successful yield of tasty veggies to enjoy all winter long.
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