It's crisp outside. Truly. My morning walk felt fresh and invigorating, as opposed to my normal humid trudge through the neighborhood. It's still August, but 70 degrees at 9 a.m. is a delight! I want to throw on a sweater and pick apples, carve pumpkins, and decorate the house in earth tones with orange accents.
It's also supposed to be 94 degrees on Saturday at our daughter's horse show, so perhaps I shouldn't get carried away.
Still, it IS almost fall. Summer disappeared in the blink of an eye, and before we know it, we'll be harvesting the last of the basil, peppers, and tomatoes. (Honestly, what happened to August? It seems that I've lost about three weeks somewhere. If you find them, will you please return them to me? I NEED those missing weeks!)
While many gardeners look to fall as the time to wind down, it's really time for those of us in temperate states to ramp up.
It's time to plan and plant the fall garden.
I know, I know. You're tired. I'm tired, too—the weeds are never-ending this year. But honestly? We really need to plant a fall garden.
The drought in the west is horrific, my friends. I know you've seen the photos and read the news. Those poor farmers, like my friend Annie Haven, just can't catch a break. So, the reality is that produce from our western states is going to be in short supply. Econ 101 taught us the lessons of supply and demand, right? Produce will be pricey. I hope we can all afford to buy that produce that makes it and help out the western farmers. However, growing a fall garden is an excellent method to stretch our food budgets—and ensure a supply of healthy food.
Your fall garden doesn't need to be elaborate. Swiss chard and lettuce grown in containers provide a beautiful, nutritious focal point on your balcony. Or incorporate cabbage and heirloom lettuce into your mailbox garden, surrounded by pansies and violas—both edible flowers. Edibles, particularly heirloom varieties, are just as beautiful in the garden as non-edible ornamental plants.
If you have the space, branch out—Brussels sprouts, carrots, leek all tolerate frost. Pick some new-to-you vegetables to try, or select a funky variety: purple dragon carrots, for instance, are heirlooms that provide gorgeous color to meals.
In my 7b zone, I can continue growing most of the winter by using mini-hoop houses and thick, clear plastic supported by the fence surrounding the potager. You can see how to make these inexpensive mini-hoops here. Of course, in the far northern and midwestern states, the first freeze comes early. Still, even a few months of homegrown fall vegetables is worth the effort.
First, check your expected first frost date. You can plug in your zip code here to find when frost might arrive in your area.
Make a list of your favorite vegetables—and then look for some new ones or new varieties to try. A few of my favorite seed sources are Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Botanical Interests, Renee's Garden, Seed Savers' Exchange, and Sow True Seeds (fairly local to me.)
Once you determine your average first frost date, you can calculate when to start seeds for your fall garden. Some crops, like radishes, are best direct sown in the garden, while others, like Swiss Chard, can easily be started in trays. My biggest problem in starting the fall garden? My main raised beds are still filled with summer crops. I'll start as many plants as possible in trays and then transplant. (I've indicated the crops that are best direct sown in the garden with an asterisk.)
While last year's outrageously cold winter turned my lettuce to mush, most years find us making salads from the garden at Christmas.
Here's hoping this is one of those years!
I'm off to sort my seeds and determine what's missing. After all, isn't that the most fun—looking for beautiful, delicious varieties to grow in the garden? Stay tuned...I'll let you know what makes it into the garden plan.
Who's going to join me in planting some fall goodies???