Fall gardening is tricky for those of us in the north. The summer is warm and not conducive to propagating and growing cool season crops, fall is short, and the frosts come before Halloween.
Lettuce Mixture Growing in Greenhouse
Let’s address these issues one at a time. Ideally, you plant your fall garden as early as possible, once the worst of the heat has begun to dissipate. For me in Zone 6, it is mid to late August. If you can provide shade for your germinating seedlings, you can with success plant a few weeks earlier. If it is still hot, mid to upper eighties or higher, you will not be able to get germination from your cool season seedlings. Even the low-eighties is not ideal for germinating cool season seeds. I try to overcome that by watering daily until I get germination, and after if it is hot and dry.
The fall is short for me, with a probability of 50% that I will receive a frost by October 15th. If I plant in late August, that only gives me about fifty days until my first frost. This makes the majority of the plants listed at the bottom of this article not possible without some kind of frost protection. Also bear in mind that the days to maturity start from the germination date, not the planting date.
Greenhouse with shade tarp. Shade is a must for planting a fall crop inside.
Floating Row Cover
You can extend the season by using cloches, floating row covers, or a greenhouse. It also helps to plant in a sheltered spot that is frost resistant, like against a south facing wall. Tips for fall gardening success:
- Find out your frost date, and plan accordingly.
- Get going as early as possible. Plant as soon as heat of summer starts to dissipate.
- You can use artificial shade, like shade cloth to starts plants earlier in the summer.
- Water your seeds to keep them cool and to get quick germination. Soak your peas and beans before planting to get a jump start.
- Use cloches, row covers, or a greenhouse to extend the season past mild frosts.
- Plant in a sheltered spot in front of a south facing wall to provide mild frost protection.
- Provide compost tea and organic fertilizer to give your plants a jump start. The larger they grow before the first frost, the more likely they are to survive it.
The quickest and best fall crop around – Radishes
Below is a list of plants that I grow in the fall, with the number of days to maturity. Remember the number of days is from the germination date, not the planting date. Plan accordingly to determine if any of these plants would work as a fall crop for your garden.
Bean – 48 to 60 (NOT frost resistant)
Beet – 55 to 70
Kohlrabi – 50 to 60
Lettuce, leaf – 40 to 50
Onion – 90 to 150 (To be harvested the following spring)
Radish – 21 to 30
Spinach – 40 to 50
Turnip – 45 to 75
Peas – 60 to 70
~ Phil Williams
Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com. He is also the author of numerous books, most recently, Fire the Landscaper and Farmer Phil's Permaculture. His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.