Fall planting time is now!! If you didn’t get around to spring planting there is still time to grow delicious food this year. If you had big plans for a big garden that didn’t quite get finished, get some pots, organic potting soil and some seeds. You can do this!
For many gardeners, once the summer is over the garden gets packed up until the next spring. I started out this way too, planting crops in the spring like tomatoes and cucumbers, and then leaving the garden empty until next year. But I was always sad that the garden was over for the year. It’s really so relaxing and rewarding and I didn’t want to give that up so quickly. I am a summer baby so giving up the garden and the beach to be cold for a long time was just too much. So I started experimenting with planting a fall crop to extend my harvest, and my time outside.
The first plants I experimented with were garlic and shallots. They are planted in late Oct / Nov here in NJ, overwinter under the snow and then grow all spring. The scapes (the delicious flower stalk) are picked in June and the heads are pulled up in July. That may seem like a long time to grow but they are really low maintenance. A little weeding here or there in the spring and that’s it. But now I don’t stop at garlic since there are lots of veggies that enjoy the cool weather of fall.
Over the last two years, I have been trying to learn how to keep my beds planted with something as much of the time as possible. I don’t have a ton of room so I like to be efficient. Here is a example of how I work the schedule in the two large beds which work in a rotation each year:
Spring: Seeds and seedlings are planted (tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, basil etc. )
Fall: Garlic and shallots are planted
Spring: Garlic and shallots planted here last fall will be pulled in June
Fall: Plant fall seeds (carrots, beets, brussels and lettuce)
Now is the time to start planting the plants you will harvest before the winter frost comes. Here are some examples of the kinds of plants to try: Carrots, beets, lettuce, arugula, Brussels sprouts, peas, broccoli, kale, swiss chard, winter squash, spinach. Look for cool season or cold hardy plants. Some varieties will even be marked for fall planting. The basic idea is that they will grow to maturity rather quickly, handle cold and/or frost or both.
I am a self taught gardener. I try things and read a lot. And fall is one place I haven’t always been successful. The timing has been a learning curve since I start thinking of planting seeds way too late and then the frost gets everything before I get to eat anything. Last year I started Brussels sprouts seeds inside which didn’t go so well and I had a few weak plants I had to nurse along. I had given them up for dead once winter came but since we had a crazy winter they lived and we ate Brussels sprouts for St. Patty’s dinner. A nice surprise but not ideal.
I plant mostly from seed for a number of reasons: it’s hard to find organic seedlings locally, shipping them cost as much as a new car, there is a much bigger variety in seeds and it costs $2-3 for a pack usually so if you kill them all, it’s not a big deal. Seeds are great to experiment with but they like certain conditions to be met, especially when first starting out. Summer veggies like basil and tomatoes love the sun and are cool with blazing sun even in the beginning. Cool weather veggies are not cool with being roasted in the August sun. They complain and fall over. To combat this I have installed a high tech device to provide shade.
This is a white fitted twin sheet from college held down with clothes pins. My name is even written in it because when I left for college they told us to write our names on everything like it was preschool. I would suggest you use something you aren’t planning to put back on a bed anytime soon since it will be outside getting dirty. You can also buy commercial shade fabrics that are made in different weaves to allow different amounts of light through. I again have a problem finding these locally for a reasonable price so I went the DIY route. I already know it’s working very well for two reasons. One, I planted the same carrot seeds in another garden with no shade cloth and only one sprouted. Two, when I took the cloth off on a cooler day to give them a chance at sun and forgot to put it back on the next day when it was hot, many of the seeds were slumped over. The Brussels didn’t snap back and I had to plant more. A little shade is the way to go when the garden is full south facing sun. If you have a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade you can probably skip the sheets.
My timing is also way better this year. I have been known to plant things way late and have frozen pea flowers and no peas. So I reminded myself to look at everything at the beginning of July so I would have time to plan. I took stock of the seeds I had left over from fall and ordered more if needed. To figure out the timing, look at the seed pack which will give you all the info you need to plug into the formula below to find out when to plant! First find out your first frost date (a simple format at the Old Farmer’s Almanac). If you want to get a bit more in depth, check out the info at NOAA where you can request a report for where you live with numbers for first frost dates at different temperatures. Choose the Normals/Annual report to put in your cart and they will email it to you for free! (use the 50% or .5 at 32 degrees for most tender plants and the 50% at 20 degrees for cold hardy plants). My first frost is 11/2 for Sandy Hook NJ in Zone 7.
The above in the back of a pack of seeds for a Rainbow Carrot Mix:
65 days to maturity + 15 days to germination + 0 days spent inside + 2 weeks (14 days) = 94 days or about 13 1/2 weeks
then I count backwards that many days from my first frost date of November 2nd which means I should plant around the week of August 1st. Since all of the numbers on the seed pack are a range (ex. 10-15 days) I use the biggest number (the longest it should take to grow) to give myself some leeway but you can also do the calculation for the shorter time or for both numbers and give yourself a range. I planted some of the seeds the week of July 31st and then added more in the spots that didn’t sprout on Aug 8th. Since the days get shorter in fall, the seeds will take a bit longer than in the spring which is why we add the extra 2 weeks in.
Since this seems like a lot of math I have made a worksheet to help! Just plug in the numbers on the back of your seed pack and you have all of your info in one place.
Don’t let this all drive you crazy with lots of dates for things. I planted everything at once. I planted everything the last week of July with the peas a little late and the arugula a little early. Use this as a guide to give yourself enough time to let things mature based on what you are actually planting since some generic charts are just a guess. I was going to plant one type of Brussels that had a maturity date that would have landed somewhere in February. It would never have been done in time and would have been a waste. This way you can get an idea of how long things take to grow and plan for it.
There are some plants known as cold hardy that can withstand a lot more cold than others. For these plants you can use the 50% at 20 degree number on the NOAA chart to count backward from. My cold hardy date is 12/12, a full five weeks later. Some plants like Kale can grow through very cold weather and even through most of the winter with a row cover. I would love to go out in snow boots and harvest from my garden but no matter how many ideas I see on Pinterest, I can’t get over the fact that kale tastes like I am chewing through a shrub.
At about a week and a half in the ground there are a ton of little seedlings.
Lincoln helped with these seeds, hence the clumps of seedlings everywhere. He was very careful putting the tiny carrots seeds in rows but the sprinkling of the lettuce and arugula seeds was a bit harder so it kind of all over the place. I will see what seedlings come out the strongest and thin the others. They are not all supposed to be on top of each other!
Brussels Sprouts are Hestia that have a much shorter maturity rate than the others. Although I planted some this spring with very different times and there are all about the same growth so who knows. Keep an eye out for little green cabbage worms that can eat the leaves very quickly. Pick them off and squish them instead of using pesticides.
Carrots – both Rainbow and Scarlet Nantes which is a sweet orange variety. Even after the frost comes, store these carrots right in the ground! The leaves will die off but the carrots will stay nice and snug. Just pull them out before the ground freezes solid. We pulled and ate ours for Christmas dinner last year.
Arugula is my favorite green. It grows quickly and does much better in the cool weather. These will also get cabbage worms so check every day or so.
Lettuce – Gourmet Mix which is a mix of leaf lettuce that are fast maturing. They are called cut and come again since you can pick a few leaves from each plant for a salad and the plant stays in the ground to keep growing. (These are a bit slower and I couldn’t get a good pic.)
Peas – Progress #9 which are a new variety of shelling or English peas I’m trying.
Beets – A jewel tone mix of red, candy striped and golden. I like mixed packs where it’s a surprise when you pull them but right now you can see the color by the stem.
All the links here are for Peaceful Valley Farm Supply to help you find some good stuff. I don’t make a cent off it. I have gotten seeds, garlic and shallots from them for years and have always been happy with the quality. They promote organic gardening and have a ton of great how tos videos.
Let me know if you are planting anything for fall or if you have any questions in the comments below! Happy planting!