Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fall gardening

It's prime gardening season. The cucumbers are coming by the bucket-load, we're finally getting some tomatoes, and it's hot enough to bake cookies in the car. Time to plan and plant your garden for those chilly fall days!

Believe it or not, it's true.

This is our first real effort at fall-time gardening.  In previous years, we have either been too tired or disillusioned with garden failure to attempt it, but with things going as well as they are, we decided to jump in. I hope the following tips will help you if you're toying with the idea of gardening this fall.

Research, research, research!

The first thing we did, and the first thing you should do if you're considering a fall garden for the first time, is to find out what you can grow in the fall in your area. Your state extension service (usually connected with a land grant university) is a good place to start for this kind of information. Click here if you need help finding  your state extension service.

For example, a lot of you may be able to grow peas as a fall crop. Not us. It just won't work in our area because of our torrid summer temperatures. I didn't believe the warnings from the state extension service and tried it out last year with dismal results. I learned my lesson!

After our research, Hubby Dear and I decided that we would try and plant:
  • Lettuce - We're planting the same Winter Density romaine that we had such great results with in the spring.  
  • Salad Mix - This time we're going with Johnny's Wildfire Lettuce Mix. I was attracted to this mix because it has a higher proportion of red-leafed lettuces (ie. it's purty!)
  • Spinach - This is a new crop for us. We're planting Red Cardinal.
  • Beets - The beets we planted this spring made wonderful pickled beets. I'm hoping for a bountiful crop this fall. We're planting Red Ace, the same variety from the spring.
  • Broccoli - This, as well as cauliflower, is something we've never tried to grow. We're going to direct seed it in our garden. Our state extension service both recommends direct seeding broccoli and cauliflower AND warns against it in the same document. I guess we'll see what happens! We're planting the Bay Meadows variety.
  • Cauliflower - See broccoli. We're trying Amazing, which is supposed to withstand both heat and cold. If it grows, well, that would be amazing!
  • Carrots - We've liked the Nelson carrots from our spring garden. We're going to try them again this fall.
  • Radishes - Radishes can get pithy and/or very strong tasting in the heat of summer. We're trying a new variety, Crunchy Royale, and seeing how it does. 
  • Cabbage - We loved the Farao we had in the spring, but it is a spring-only variety. We're trying the very non-poetically named Storage No. 4 for the fall.
  • Swiss Chard - I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never even tasted chard, much less cooked or grown it. This will be a new adventure all the way around. We're growing Bright Lights, which looks like it will be a beautiful addition to our garden.  

Here is the resulting garden plan:

Personalize the plan for your garden - especially if you Square Foot Garden 

All the squares in orange represent existing plantings. If you look closely, you'll notice that we had to add in a few squares of "overflow" for our pumpkins and some of the tomatoes. These plants are not behaving themselves and sticking to their assigned squares and we haven't had the heart to pinch them back. We're just going to give them wide berth and plant around them.

You'll also see our strange checkerboard of cabbage in the southwest corner of our garden. First of all, that area was supposed to be strawberries. Every single last strawberry plant there died. Major bummer and quite the head-scratcher. (Our working theory is that Hubby Dear over-fertilized them. He fertilized Mini Me's strawberries in her box at the same rate and about half survived. Who knows what happened?) We'll try again next year, but this fall we thought we'd try cabbages there. We're planting them in the checkerboard arrangement because we found that our spring cabbage got so huge that it needed extra room.  

Beat the heat

In addition to selecting the right types of plants for your climate and the best varieties of those plants for fall gardening, there are a few things to keep in mind as you establish your fall garden during the hot months of July and August.  
  1. Plant seeds slightly deeper than you would in the spring. Deeper soil will be slightly cooler and more moist, and that can increase your germination rates.
  2. You're also going to want to plant more seeds than you need. Those hot August temperatures can stifle germination, so it's better to over-seed just in case. You can always thin out the extra plants later.
  3. Lastly, don't forget to water, water, water, especially as the seeds are germinating.

Are you a fall gardener? Do you have any tips to share?


  1. Thanks for the tips, this will be my first year trying a fall garden too. It will probably be late August to early September before I start because it is so hot where I live.

  2. Are you using a computer program for your garden plan? I love how organized you seem to be. I love square foot gardening! I don't have much sun in my yard but we are using what we have to the max. Fall gardening here in Minnesota is tricky but it can be done with square foot gardening because we can protect it so easily if an early frost happens to hit. Love to read about your adventures.

  3. Shauna - All credit for the garden plan definitely goes to my hubby. He's the Excel wizard and used that program to create our garden plan. Another really cool program we're using is the Mother Earth News garden planner. You have to pay for it, but you can get a free month's trial and play around with it.

    Thanks for reading! Emily

  4. Hi Emily, your garden is an inspiration! With the strawberries, we use pig manure and that gets them to thrive.

    Also in fall I grow broccoli, lettuce and spinach outside and my tomatoes run through till winter in the glasshouse... I hope that helps!