[Gardening in the Fall:
fall | season ]
VEGETABLE GARDENING IN THE FALL (WINTER IN THE HOTTER REGIONS)
Ch. 10, pp. 55 - 62
Planting for a fall harvest
By planning and planting a fall/winter vegetable garden it is
possible to have fresh vegetables up to and even past the first
frosts. At the time when retail vegetable prices are on the rise,
you can be reaping large and varied harvests from your
still-productive garden site.
Many varieties of vegetables can be planted in
midsummer to late summer for fall/winter harvests. Succession
plantings of warm season crops, such as corn and beans, can be
harvested until the first killing frost. Cool season crops, such
as kale, turnips, mustard, broccoli, cabbage, etc., grow well
during the cool fall/winter days and withstand light frosts.
Timely planting is the key to a successful fall garden.
To determine the time to plant a particular vegetable
for the latest harvest in your area, you need to know the average
date of the first killing frost and the number of days to maturity
for the variety grown. Choose earliest maturing varieties for late
plantings. The formula below for determining the number of days to
count back from the first frost will help determine when to start
your fall garden.
Number of days from seeding or transplanting outdoors
+ Number of days from seed to transplant if you grow your own
+ Average harvest period
+ Fall Factor (about 2 weeks)
+ Frost Tender Factor (if applicable)
= Days to count back from first frost date
The Frost Tender Factor is added only for those crops
that are sensitive to frost (corn, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes,
squash), as these must mature 2 weeks before frost in order to
produce a reasonable harvest. The Fall Factor takes into account
the slower growth that results from cooler weather and shorter
days in the fall, and amounts to about 2 weeks. This time can be
reduced from 2 to 5 days by presprouting seeds. Almost any crop
that isn't grown for transplants can benefit from presprouting.
Sprout seeds indoors, allowing them to reach a length of up to an
inch. Sprouted seeds may be planted deeper than normal to help
prevent drying out, and they should be watered well until they
break the soil surface. Care should be taken not to break off the
sprouts when planting them.
When planting fall crops, prepare the soil by restoring
nutrients removed by spring and summer crops. A light layer of
compost or aged manure, or a small application of complete
chemical fertilizer will boost soil nutrients in preparation for
Dry soil may make working the soil difficult and
inhibit seed germination during the midsummer period. Plant fall
vegetables when the soil is moist after a rain, or water the area
thoroughly the day before planting. Seeds may be planted in a
shallow trench to conserve moisture. Cover the seeds about twice
as deeply as you do in the spring. An old-time trick for
germinating seeds in midsummer is to plant the seeds, water them
in well, and then place a board over the row until the sprouts
just reach the soil surface; at that time remove the board.
Plastic will also work, but must be completely anchored so the
soil does not dry out underneath or the plastic blow away.
Plastic, especially black plastic, may cause the soil to get too
hot. An organic mulch on top will help keep soil cool. Mulching
between rows can also help keep soil cool and decrease soil
drying. In severe hot weather a light, open type of mulch, such as
loose straw or pine boughs, may be placed over the seeded row.
This must be removed as soon as seedlings are up so that they
receive full sun. Starting transplants in a shaded coldframe or in
a cool indoor area is another possibility.
Once young plants are established, a heavier mulch may
be used to hold moisture and control weeds. Irrigate when
necessary so the young plants have sufficient moisture. Fall
plantings often have few insect problems, as they avoid the peak
insect activity period of midsummer. However, some insects, such
as cabbageworm and corn earworm, may be even worse late in the
year than in summer; vigilance is still required! Avoid some pests
and diseases by planting crops of different families than were
originally in that section of the garden.
Some of the best quality vegetables are produced during
the warm days and cool nights of the fall season. These
environmental conditions add sugar to sweet corn and crispness to
carrots. Parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes are examples of crops
that are very much improved by a touch of frost.
Protection of vegetable plants during cold periods may
extend your season even further. Though in the hot days of summer
the last thing you want to think about is planting more crops to
take care of, look ahead to the fall garden, which offers its own
satisfaction through prolonged harvest of fresh vegetables,
savings in food costs, and the knowledge that you're making full
use of your gardening space and season.
Care of fall crops
The beginning of fall garden care comes when the weather and the
radio station announce the first arrival of frost. Your main
concern then should be to harvest all ripe, tender crops.
Tomatoes, summer squash, melons, eggplant, cucumbers, peppers, and
okra are some of the crops that cannot withstand frost and should
be picked immediately. Store the vegetables in a place where they
can be held until needed for eating or processing. If the frost
warning is mild, predicting no lower than a 30 F., try covering
tender plants in your garden that still hold an abundance of
immature fruit. Baskets, burlap, boxes, blankets, or buckets help
protect them from the frost. Warm days after the frost will still
mature some of the fruit as long as the plants have this nightly
frost protection. Much will depend on the garden's microclimate.
If your spot is low and unsheltered, it is likely to be a frost
pocket. Gardens sheltered from winds and on the upper side of a
slope are less susceptible to early frost damage.
When using a cold frame to extend the harvest season,
be sure to close the top on frosty nights to protect the plants
from the cold. When the sun comes out the next morning and the air
warms, open the cold frame again; leave it closed if daytime
temperatures are low.
Cool-season crops such as cabbage, cauliflower,
broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts can withstand some cold.
In fact, their flavor may be enhanced after a frost. They cannot
stay in the garden all winter, but do not need to be picked
immediately when frost comes. Kale, spinach, evergreen bunching
onions, lettuce, parsley, parsnips, carrots, and salsify are some
crops that may survive all winter in the garden. Mulch these
overwintering vegetables with 8 inches of mulch to prevent heaving
of the soil. Most of these vegetables can be dug or picked as
needed throughout the winter or in early spring.
Now is the time to prepare perennial vegetables for
winter, too. Most will benefit from a topdressing of manure or
compost and a layer of mulch, which reduces damage from freezing
and thawing. Dead leaf stalks of perennial vegetables such as
asparagus and rhubarb should be cut to the ground after their tops
are killed by frost, though some people prefer to leave asparagus
stalks until late winter to hold snow over the bed.
When tender crops have been harvested and overwintering
crops cared for, pull up all stakes and trellises in the garden
except those stakes that are clearly marking the sites of
overwintering plants. Clean stakes and trellises of remnants of
plant materials and soil. Hose them down and allow to dry. Tie
stakes in bundles and stack them so that they won't get lost over
the winter. If possible, roll up wire trellises and tie them
securely. Store these items inside your attic, barn, or shed in an
area where they are out of the way, and where rodents and other
animals cannot get to them to use as winter nests.
Preparing soil for winter
Now you are ready to prepare the soil for winter. Pull up all
dead and unproductive plants and place this residue on top of the
soil to be tilled under, or in the compost heap. Remove any
diseased or insect-infested plant material from the garden that
may shelter overwintering stages of disease and insect pests. If
this plant material is left in the garden, you are leaving an
inoculum of diseases and insects which will begin to reproduce the
next spring and add to your pest problems.
The best thing to do is to remove infested plant
material from the garden or burn it. Burning will kill any
diseases or insects that may be in plant wastes. Spread the ashes
on the garden to get the benefit of mineral nutrients. Check laws
in your area before burning anything; you may need a permit. If
you live near a wooded area, burning may be too risky. In this
case, haul the diseased material away.
Clean-up also gives you the chance to add compost to
the garden. Compost contains highly nutritious, decomposed plant
material and beneficial organisms, and is an excellent
soil-builder. By spreading compost and other wastes on the soil
and plowing them in, you are adding nutrients to the soil for next
year's crop. The beneficial insects and microorganisms in the
compost will help integrate the compost with the soil, and the
added humus will improve soil structure.
Don't overlook other excellent sources of organic
material available during the fall. Leaves are abundant, and
neighbors will usually be glad to give their leaves away. Put some
on the garden now and store some for next year's mulch. Leaves
will mat if put on in too thick a layer, and will not decompose
quickly. You can help leaves break down more easily by running a
lawn mower back and forth over the pile. Put the shredded leaves
directly onto the garden or compost them. Many farms and stables
want to get rid of manure piles before winter sets in. All these
sources of organic matter will benefit soil conditions.
If you wait until just before planting to add organic
material to the garden, it may not have time to decompose and add
its valuable nutrients to the soil by the time you are ready to
plant, and you may have to delay planting to a later date. Hot
(very fresh) manure can also burn young seedlings. By adding these
materials after harvest, you give them plenty of time to decompose
and blend into the soil before planting time. If you don't have
enough organic material for the entire garden, try to cover those
areas that you want especially rich for the next gardening season.
If the weather stays dry enough before the ground
freezes, you can plow or rototill in the fall. Turning under
vegetation after harvest allows earlier planting the next season
and is especially good for heavy soils, since they may be exposed
to the freezing and thawing that takes place during the winter.
This helps to improve soil structure. If you have a rainy fall, or
if the garden is steep and subject to erosion, you may decide
you'd rather plant a cover crop to protect the garden. A cover
crop decreases erosion of the soil during the off season, adds
organic material when it is incorporated prior to planting,
improves soil tilth and porosity, and adds valuable nutrients. Off
season cover crops should be planted early enough to make some
growth before hard frost kills them. Where you have fall/winter
crops growing, you can sow cover crop seed between rows a month or
less before expected harvest. This way the cover crop gets a good
start, but will not interfere with vegetable plant growth.
Prepare the soil for cover crop seed by tilling under
plant wastes from the last crop. Ask at the seed store what the
best type of cover crop for your area is and at what rate (pounds
per 100 square feet) to plant it. Broadcast the seed, preferably
before a rain, and rake it evenly into the soil. Planting may be
delayed somewhat by the practice of cover cropping, since time
must be allowed for the green manure to break down. If you have
crops that need to be planted very early, you may prefer to leave
a section of the garden bare or with a stubble mulch.
When time or weather conditions prohibit either tilling
or cover cropping, you may wish to let your garden lie under a
mulch of compost, plant wastes, or leaves all winter to be plowed
or tilled under before planting. However, if you want to plant
early, a mulch of heavy materials such as whole leaves may keep
the soil cold long enough to delay planting. In this case, chop
them fine enough that they will break down during the off season.
The addition of fertilizer high in nitrogen will also help break
down organic matter more quickly.
Some cover crops suitable for winter use are in the
table 10.14. Mixtures of legumes and non-legumes are effective as
Care of garden equipment
Clean-up of tools and equipment is another important practice
related to the garden which should not be ignored in the fall.
Proper clean-up of tools now will leave them in top shape and
ready to use when spring comes. Clean, oil, and repair all hand
tools. Repaint handles or identification marks that have faded
over the summer. Sharpen all blades and remove any rust. Power
tools should be cleaned of all plant material and dirt. Replace
worn spark plugs, oil all necessary parts, and sharpen blades.
Store all tools in their proper place indoors, never outdoors
where they will rust over the winter.
Unless you are lucky enough to live in a warm area
where a cold frame will protect vegetables all winter, you will
need to clean up the frame when all vegetables have been
harvested. Remove all remaining plant material and spread it on
the cold frame soil. Spade the plant refuse and any other organic
material into the soil in the cold frame as thoroughly as
possible. Do not leave the top on the cold frame over the winter,
as the cold air or the weight of snow may crack or break the
glass. Remove the top, wash it thoroughly, and store it on its
side in a protected indoor area where it will not get broken.
Successful gardening doesn't stop when frost comes, but
continues throughout the fall and early winter months. When
following good garden care practices during this time, your garden
will be ready for the growth of healthy vegetables next spring.
|Amount to Sow Per 100 ft./(oz.)
|When to Sow
|When to Turn Under
|1/2 - 1
|Fixes 150-250 lbs N/ac/yr;
deep roots break hard soil.
|Loam, fairly fertile soil.
Needs warm temps for germination. Drought tolerant. Hardy.
Perennial. Can be hard to control. Inoculate seed.
|Adds organic matter;
improves soil aggregation
|Annual. Prefers medium rich
loam soil. Not as hardy as rye. Tolerates drought.
|Mellows soil rich in
|Annual. Not frost tolerant.
|1/2 - 1
|Fixes 100 - 150 lbs N/ac.
|Biennial. Inoculate seed.
Greatest benefit is in second year.
|5 /plant 8"
|Some types fix 70 - 100 lbs
in little as 6 wks. Use small-seeded rather than table types.
|Annual. Adapted to many
soil types. Medium drought tolerance. Likes cool growing
weather. Inoculate with same bacteria as for hairy vetch.
|Adds organic matter,
|Annual. Needs adequate
manganese. Not hardy.
|Adds organic matter,
improves soil aggregation.
|Annual. Very hardy. Can
plant later than any other cover crop.
|Fixes 80 - 100 lbs N/ac/yr
|Annual. Inoculate seed.
Hairy. Slow to establish. Fairly hardy. Till under before
seeds can become a weed.
|Adds organic matter;
improves soil aggregation.
|Same as barley.