Fall Gardening

Fall is the time of the year we think about harvesting and canning and all that stuff right? But what about starting a garden?

When most people think about getting the garden going they are thinking about Springtime but the truth is that you can have a very successful garden for fall with a a late summer or early fall planting.

Here are a few things you need to know if you are going to have a productive fall garden.

Succession Planting

What is it? Succession planting refers to several planting methods that increase crop availability during a growing season by making efficient use of space and timing. One such method of succession planting is that after one crop is harvested, another is planted in the same space. The length of the growing season, climate, and crop selection are key factors.

Why do it? It can greatly increase the amount of food you grow in a year in the same space as you can double or sometimes triple crop production on a piece of land.

Figuring Out What To Plant For A Fall Garden

Calculating growing time

You will need to know 2 things when determining how much growing time you will have and need for a successful fall garden. This will determine when and what you plant.

First you will need to know how long it takes to grow the crop you are planning to planning to plant for the late fall harvest. Many seed companies offer charts that give you succession planting information about growing time. Here is a good one from Johnnyseed – http://www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/vegetables/succession-planting-interval-chart-vegetables.html

You will also need to know the average first frost date for your area. A good place to find this is The Old Farmer’s Almanac Website


You just put in your zip code or look up your zone and it will give you the dates.

For an example, my first average frost date is October 11th so I will want to look at the vegetables I’m considering growing and back up the number of weeks of growing time until maturity to figure out when to plant.

Let’s say I want to grow another crop of turnips before winter, I would look how long it takes to grow turnips which is six weeks, then back up 6 weeks from my first frost date and plant no later than that. So I need to plant my turnips no later than August 30th.

Something like Arugula would only require 4 weeks and Spinach can be planted as late as 2 weeks before the first frost date.

However, I could plant certain vegetables at a later date if using a season extension method such as a low tunnel Agribon row cover to protect the plants from the frost.

Growing Cover Crops

What Is A Cover Crop?

A cover crop is a crop planted in a garden bed to protect the soil from erosion, control weeds, loosen soil, improve the soil by adding organic matter and depending on the cover crop it may be used to increase the nitrogen in the soil. Most garden beds can greatly benefit from the use of a cover crop during the time the site is not planted with vegetables.

Two Types Of Cover Crops.

Cover crops can be divided into two groups: legumes and non-legumes. The legumes have the ability to fix nitrogen deficiencies in the soil and are a wonderful crop to grow in beds you plan on planting vegetables that require high nitrogen such as tomatoes, peppers and corn.

The best and most common legume cover crops are White and Crimson Red Clover, Hairy Vetch, Alfalfa, Winter Field Bean and Winter Pea. Some of these crops may work better according to your particular climate, winter temperatures and soil conditions. Hairy vetch is one of my favorites because of its hardiness, nitrogen fixing ability and thick foliage which provides plenty of organic mulch and weed control.

Some common non-legume cover crops that provide excellent organic material and weed control are Barley, Buckwheat, Oats, Rye and Wheat. Out of these rye would be my favorite because it is the most hardy and easiest to grow. Some have the advantage of being extremely fast growing which gives them the preference over others, again it depends on your climate and possibly the condition of your soil.

If you’re trying to loosen up hard compacted soil for better drainage by using cover crops you may want to consider root vegetables such as Daikon Radish and Turnips. This is known as bio-drilling and it works well to soften compacted soil and as the roots decompose it leaves open pockets in the soil for the next crop to root down through.

How To Plant Cover Crops.

Most cover crops can be planted by scratching up and leveling out the soil and then the seeds being broadcast around as you would grass seed. Slightly roughing up the soil helps the seeds settle into the soil a little better and can help prevent the seed from being eaten by birds.

Exceptions to this rule would be planting root vegetables beans as cover crops. These seeds would take a little more time as you would need to plant these seeds, root vegetables need to be about two inches apart and about a half inch deep and beans need to be planted even further apart.

When To Plant Cover Crops.

You will want to plant your cover crops at a time when they will be able to get established and grow with some significance before the weather prohibits growth. Usually this is about four weeks before your first frost date. An exception to this rule is rye as it can be planted right up until the first frost date and still grow well. The trick of course is to plant them soon enough for them to grow as much as possible but not so soon that the have time to go to seed before it’s time to cut them down.

When and How To Cut Down Cover Crops.

This may vary depending on which crop you grow and the zone you’re growing in but what is most important is that you chop them down before they seed. Crops that do not winter over can be cut to the ground after the first frost and then let lay as a mulch over winter. Crops that over winter should be cut at ground level in early spring before they seed, whichever you grow make sure you leave the roots in the ground and cut at the base of the plant. I like to use a string trimmer to cut down the crops, with this tool it’s easy to cut low and you can get through large garden spaces fairly quickly.

Some people like to turn the soil over, mixing the cut down crops into the soil to break down. I prefer the mulching method which keeps the soil covered helping with moisture retention and weed control.

Cover crops work well for gardens of all sizes and even raised beds, the seeds can be very inexpensive when purchased in bulk and can do wonders for your garden soil. Give cover crops a try and you might just have the best garden around.

Preparing Garden Beds For Next Year

Clean up the beds by removing all the dead plants.Plant any crops that require planting in Fall for a Spring harvest such as garlic or certain flower bulbs.Add a couple inches of finished compost.Cover with a couple inches of mulch or a few inches of leaves, I use leaves.


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