A few days ago, some of my friends and I were chatting about gardens. (Shocking, I know.) Specifically, I mentioned that I need to clean up the summer garden and prepare it for fall crops.
It's a painful process for me.
I hate tearing out any plant that's still producing, even if emotionally I'm so, so ready to get rid of the uglies and plant perky, happy seedlings. As vile as the vines look, I'm not ready to give up fresh tomatoes. I've pulled a lot of vines, but there are still a few that I'm pampering, hoping to enjoy bruschetta through the fall.
So, instead of ripping out all of the summer plants in August, I prepare for the fall garden by starting seedlings in the greenhouse. Yes, it's probably less time consuming to direct sow lettuce, but by planting seeds in biodegradable pots, I'm extending the summer garden as long as possible while getting a head start on growing produce.
If you're starting seedlings for your garden, you might want to refer to this chart that I put together last fall. It's my cheat sheet that shows when you should plant seeds for your fall garden, depending on your first expected frost date (which you can find here.) It also gives you hints about depth for planting, how long until germination, and when you can expect to harvest your crops. Some seeds, like radishes and carrots, really do need to be direct sowed, though. Still, that's OK—radishes grow quickly and are typically ready to harvest in 28 days. Carrots can remain in the garden throughout most of the winter (mulched with straw in cold climates), harvesting as you need them. In fact, the cooler soil can make the carrots taste sweeter.
Before any plants enter the fall garden, all of the summer debris needs to be cleared—particularly any diseased plant material. A fresh layer of compost will be added to the beds and mixed in well, and I'll do a soil test to check pH and determine any nutrients that are missing for the fall crops.
But the best part of planning the fall garden? Why, selecting what you're going to grow, of course! My friends asked what I planned to grow this fall, but at the time I hadn't selected the varieties. Now, though, the seeds have arrived and are anxiously awaiting their new home! Everything I've ordered is heirloom and organic, and some of the varieties are just ridiculously beautiful. Here's what's going in the fall garden:
Forellenschluss (My favorite—I love its beautiful speckling, plus it's crispy and delicious.)
Grandpa Admire's (Another favorite that's on Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste.)
Merveille des Quatre Saisons (I just love saying the name in my high school French accent.)
Bloomsdale Long Standing
Red Malabar (which isn't spinach, really...but it's a beautiful vining green with red stems, so I'm excited to add it to the garden.)
Ching Chang Bok Choy
Chinese Pak Choy
Cour di Bue
Five Color Silverbeet
Chinese White Flowered
Blue Podded Blauwschokkers
Golden Sweet Snow
Sugar Ann Snap
Early Scarlet Globe
Beets (I'm embarrassed to say—I've never grown beets. Can't wait to try these!)
Bleu de Solaise
I'll also grow some Brussels sprouts for Peter, but I'll most likely buy transplants for those. For whatever reason, I have a tough time getting them started from seed, and I have a source locally where I can get organic Brussels sprouts plants.
Oddly absent from our southern garden—collards. I know, I know—how can I be a southern gardener without collards? For whatever reason, we just don't eat collards. Maybe it's my Yankee upbringing coming out. Can anyone give me a good endorsement for collards and why I should try them?
I haven't ordered my garlic and shallots yet—and I need to do that soon. Many varieties of garlic sell out early, so that's definitely on my to-do list. Usually, I dedicate one raised bed to garlic and plant about five varieties. We use a lot of garlic!
Besides planting the beds in the large kitchen garden, I'm starting seedlings for the potager, as well as for some containers. I'm also planning to incorporate some fall edibles into the front gardens. Personally, I've never liked ornamental cabbages, but I find edible combinations, like kale and violas, or the rainbow colors of Swiss chard alone, really beautiful. We'll see how it turns out! I'll keep you posted.
I also need to check my mini hoops from last year to make certain the plastic isn't torn. In our zone 7b garden, these little low tunnels (which cost a whopping $10 for materials) provide enough protection from the cold to keep most of our crops producing throughout the winter. I also cover the potager with plastic when we have a freeze warning, but I already know I need to replace that plastic cover. The fencing gouged big holes in the plastic due to the weight of rain on the cover. (Note to self: remove the plastic before a rain!)
With a little preplanning and preparation, we'll be enjoying lovely harvests from the garden all winter.
Have you planned your fall garden? What are you most looking forward to growing in the cool weather?
Hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday weekend!