I wasn’t sure if I was going to plant a fall garden. The big summer garden was so exhausting that I am definitely ready for some rest and slowing down. Also, my parents are coming from Israel for a visit so between that and homeschooling and the animals and the other projects on the homestead I have plenty of things to get done.
But I know myself… I would enjoy a month of slowing down and cleaning up some of the mess but then in October I’ll get frustrated that I don’t have anything growing in the garden which means I’ll plant some seeds and try to force them to grow quickly only to see them freezing to death when the first frost comes.
Or I’ll decide that I am going to protect them and start building all kinds of structures and tunnels and it will become this huge project that I didn’t plan and wasn’t supposed to do because there are other priorities…. You can see that I’ve been there before.
So I am just going to give one big push and despite the need I have for some rest, I will plant a fall garden.
Benefits of the Fall Garden
Here in the south (I’m in zone 7b), we can plant a spring garden, a summer garden, and a fall garden. Our growing season is very long; from late February and all the way to the middle of November when the first frost arrives.
Fall gardening is really so much easier than gardening during the summer or even the spring.
The hardest part about the fall garden is planting it because, like I said above, you are usually tired from taking care of the spring and summer garden.
But once the plants and seeds are in the ground, there is really not that much to do besides watching the plants grow and occasionally caring for them.
There are almost no bugs. It seems like they got their tummy full from the summer garden and are on their way to I’m not sure where. But they don’t really visit the fall garden.
The weeds slow waaaay down in the cool weather and if you have your garden covered with mulch you really don’t need to weed that much.
Watering is easy too. The cool weather helps keep the soil moist for a longer period and again if you have mulch on the ground than there is really not much watering to do.
The main work in the fall garden is starting seeds indoors if you do that yourself, planting seeds and transplants, and harvesting.
When to Plant the Fall Garden
This, of course, will vary depending on your location. Here in the south, we have to have most plants or seeds in the ground by the middle of August.
Many of the vegetables we can grow in the fall like lettuce, kale, chard and so on, are better started indoors. In other words, in the middle of August, we better be planting starts in the garden instead of seeds and sometimes we are better leaving those tiny plants indoors a little longer until the weather cools down a bit.
Here is the problem we run to here in the south. Let’s take broccoli for example. It takes broccoli around three months to reach maturity. Here in NC, our first frost is usually around the middle of November so that means we need to start broccoli around the middle of July.
I know what you think. The middle of July to the middle of November is actually four months… Aren’t we supposed to start it in the middle of August?
I thought the same thing but in reality, you can’t count on the plant doing any kind of growing in November at all because the temperature is too low. Most plants really slow down at the end of October. This means that you want to have your vegetables ready for harvest at the beginning of November. Since the weather is cold at that point, they can stay in the ground for a few weeks if you don’t want to pick them right away.
But broccoli and all the other vegetables we can grow in the fall (we will go over those in a minute) are cool weather vegetables. If you plant the seeds in July when the soil temperature is high, the seeds won’t germinate. By the time the soil cools down and the seeds germinate it’s too late, the plant will not reach maturity by November.
So to solve this problem we need to start the plants indoors in a place where we can control the temperature. We should start around the middle of July and keep them indoors in a cool room (preferably 65-75F) and under lights until the conditions outside allow us to plant.
This also gives you a bit of room to play around the weather. If there is a wave of heat around the middle of August, you can keep the plants indoors and wait it out. They’ll keep growing in their pots whereas if they were outside they would have probably be damaged by the heat.
I have a small room that I call The Germination Room where I can start plants, but July was just too crazy and I couldn’t get to it so I went shopping at the local plant nursery and bought a few plants. If you can’t start your own seeds indoors in time, I think you are better off purchasing starts somewhere than planting seeds late.
This doesn’t work with all fall vegetables, though.
For example, carrot seeds should be planted right in the garden. Peas also should be planted right in the garden (although you might be able to start them indoors in toilet paper rolls and then transplant). With those kinds of seeds we plant anyway and then all we have to do is hope that the weather cooperates.
What Belongs in the Fall Garden
There is a lot to grow in the fall garden!
And somevarietiess of pumpkins.
This is the group that should be started indoors. Most of those plants should be started around the middle of July indoors and transplanted somewhere around the middle or end of August. Read more about how to start seeds indoors here.
If you are in a cooler climate those dates will change. Think about it like that… You want to start the plants indoors 4, preferably 5 weeks before there is a break in the heat of the summer. In other words, you want your plants to be ready for transplanting when air temperature goes down to the lower 80s upper 70s.
Collards (can also be started indoors)
Spinach (can also be started indoors)
Arugula (can also be started indoors)
Mustard (can also be started indoors)
Cilantro and parsley (can also be started indoors)
This is the group that prefers to not be transplanted. You will need to plant those seeds in the garden at the end of summer for a fall harvest.
Cleaning Up The Summer Garden
This fall, I am going to plant only the smaller garden behind the house. The farmer’s market around here is pretty much done at the end of August so I won’t be planting anything for the market, just for us.
The thing is, since we had a big garden at the farm this year, the small garden behind the house is not in good shape. There are weeds everywhere. It was fairly easy to clean the two long beds and the walkway between them because they were covered with straw mulch, but it’s so hard to clean around the garden.
A great thing that happened this year is that my husband found a tree cutting service that is willing to give us all of the wood chips they have and from now on they will be dumping wood chips at the farm.
So I have plenty of free, natural mulch but I somehow need to get rid of the tall grass around the garden so I can lay the mulch. I pulled some of it by hand but there is still more. I’m thinking maybe I’ll put cardboard over it or landscape fabric, or maybe I’ll spray it with horticulture vinegar… Or maybe I can leave it and let winter kill it for me. We’ll see.
I still have some tomatoes, eggplants, and beans in the garden. The tomatoes have been green forever now so I think I’ll give them one more week and if they don’t start ripening I’ll just pull the plants out and keep the tomatoes on the counter. If they don’t turn red, we’ll make fried green tomatoes.
The beans will still produce during the fall and the eggplants are pretty much done so they can go.
A the beginning of the year I decided to make a little round herb area at the end of one of the beds but I don’t really like it so I am going to dig the herbs out and make the bed longer. I’m planning to build a small raised bed for my herbs somewhere in the yard so I’ll be transferring them to that bed, until then, I’ll just keep them in a container.
Other than that, the garden is pretty much clean and ready for planting. I have to spread a new layer of straw mulch and add some compost. I have a neighbor that raises cows so I have free manure from him and I already have trellises standing so I’ll use the ones I have for peas.
You can see how I prepare a garden for planting without tilling in this post.
So now that everything is ready, let’s plant the fall garden…
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A Word About Garlic And Shallots
If you want to grow garlic and onions in your garden, make sure to leave space for them when you plant your fall garden.
Both onions and garlic need to be planted in the fall for next year’s harvest.
A Word About Fall Cover Crops
If you feel like planting a fall garden is too much for you, that’s fine! But there is still a lot you can do in order to improve your garden’s soil.
One thing you can do is plant cover crops. Those are crops like winter rye grass and such that would keep your soil covered and add nutrients and improve your soil structure.
You can read more about cover crops here.
A Word About Leaf Mulch
Leaves are going to start falling all around you soon and they are an amazing free resource for the homesteader!
Simply collect fall leaves and pile them in your garden. You can also make leaf compost in a pile or leaf mold. Read more about how to use fall leaves here.
In addition to using fall leaves and cover crops, you may also want to read about 5 very easy cool weather vegetables to grow in the fall and about planting fall bulbs for early spring flowers.
A Word About Season Extention Methods
There are a few ways to preserve what you have grown in the fall even during the winter right in your garden.
Methods like hoop houses and cold frames or just piling up straw on your plants can all be used to keep your garden going through the winter.
I used to implement those methods but I no longer do that. I simply need the rest.
So I plan my garden to be put to bed around Thanksgiving. This is when I’ll harvest everything that is left, add compost (in my case cow’s manure), cover the garden with a thick layer of mulch and let it rest until the spring.
We don’t have a long winter here in NC, and it will be fairly easy to put enough vegetables from the summer and fall garden aside to last us for the few winter months, but my problem is that I don’t have a root caller yet so there is nowhere for me to store vegetables, this means that for now I’m buying my vegetables at the grocery store during the winter months.
A root cellar might be one of the projects we will work on this winter. I am looking forward to the day I can walk into my root caller during the winter and grab my home grown organic vegetables in the middle of winter!
I can’t believe we are transitioning into fall already. It seems like the year just started a short minute ago. Soon it will be time to change gears and slow down a bit, but you know, there is still so much to do in the fall and winter.
Cold season is hunting season and building season around here and there are many projects to complete. But for an additional short couple of weeks, we will be concentrating on the garden so there is plenty of good food to harvest and eat all the way to Thanksgiving.
Are you planting a fall garden this year?