The growing season isn’t over with the arrival of cool weather. Until the first hard frost hits, you have plenty of time to plant, pick and plate cool-weather crops – You’ll save yourself some money in the grocery’s produce aisle too.
Fall is a great time for gardening thanks to cooler, milder temperatures, a decrease in garden pests, and moister, well-draining soil. These conditions make it ideal for crops that prefer cooler weather. Some vegetables taste even better when nipped by light frost.
Planting in summer ensures crops will have time to mature before the first freeze in fall. Choose varieties that mature quickly; you can find the days to maturity on plant tags. Starting with transplants, rather than seed, will help make the growing process much easier.
Tidy up: Remove spent plants, like early planted beans, cucumbers or lettuce, since they’re pretty much done for the season and can harbor pests. Clear away holes left from pulling plants, and get rid of weeds before they go to seed. Throw away anything distressed and compost the rest.
Discard any fallen fruits, rotting produce can attract pests. Take note of where everything was planted so you can be sure to rotate crops.
Set up the soil: Freshen garden soil by removing the existing layer of mulch and replace it. Straw makes an excellent cover because it’s easily scattered, it’s also a favorite home for spiders that will help control insect pests in your garden. You can also use a layer of shredded leaves for mulch.
Loosen compacted soil and fluff it up with a garden fork. Major tilling isn’t necessary; just move soil enough to allow new plant roots to settle in and let water get through. Test soil (you can buy a testing kit at most garden retailers) to see if it needs help. Add amendments, if needed. At the very least, work some compost in where your plants will be growing.
If you’ll be using a cold frame or hoop, set it up early so that it’ll be ready to go when you need it and you won’t risk damaging plants and roots once they begin to grow.
Pick your plants: Starting with transplants will buy you lots of time. Since plants are six weeks or older when you put them in the ground, you’ll harvest sooner than if you start from seed. Look for transplants from an established grower.
Some top crops for all planting include: Top Bunch Collards – This hybrid is heavy yielding, early maturing, and more uniform than traditional varieties. Spinach – A cool-weather vegetable related to beets and Swiss chard, spinach is a fast-growing plant, yielding many leaves in a short time in fall. Winterbor kale – This nutritious leafy green is a vigorous producer that endures winter easily. Cut the outer leaves so that the center can continue growing. Space transplants 12 inches apart. Cabbage – Cabbage is especially high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, K and fiber.