If you ‘got with the program’ this past spring and planted a warm weather edible garden, whether, in beds or containers, you are by now, starting to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Nothing says summer like fresh picked green beans, vine-ripened tomatoes, eggplants, and melons. However, the cooler temperatures are sure to return and bring a halt to the bounty of warm weather crops.
Growing your own food is very rewarding and likely, you do not relish the fact that the season will soon be ending. Don’t fret; there is a way to extend the harvest season. Many edible plants thrive in cold temperatures and their flavor is actually sweetened by the crisp air of Autumn. Cool season crops, commonly referred to as Hardy and Semi-hardy vegetables, generally grow best at temperatures averaging 15° cooler than those needed by warm season crops. One of the greatest advantages of growing veggies during the fall season is that the warm weather pests and diseases slow down or diminish altogether. Whether you’re a seasoned fall gardener or have never tried it, here are a few tips for making your cool weather crop a successful one.
Begin by determining when your region experiences its first frost. Timing is an important factor for successful fall gardening. Plants require ample time to reach a good size before the daylight diminishes and the temperatures drop off to the point where they stop growing. Contact your State Extension Service for a guide listing planting dates for vegetables. They have already done the research by collecting frost dates and temperature data over many years and all of this information is available to you. Of course, each year the dates and temperatures will vary, but reviewing the data will give you some understanding of your region, an idea of approximately how long your harvest season will last, and ultimately provide you with enough information to plan a fruitful cool weather garden.
It can sometimes be difficult to locate vegetable transplants in mid-to-late summer. Keep a “lookout” in your local garden centers for young plants but be prepared to grow your own if needed. Bear in mind if you are starting your own seedlings, depending on the variety, you will need to add approximately 6 to 10 weeks lead-time. Unlike spring growing, sowing seeds during the heat of summer will require starting your seeds in a cooler spot until they have sprouted and are ready to thin. Provide good drainage and keep the seedlings consistently moist to enable a good start.
Once you have seen the tenacity of these ‘chill’in veggies’, you’ll wonder why everyone doesn’t grow a cool weather garden:
Cool Cole Crops - Kale is an easy and dependable cool weather crop. Some varieties are hardy to zero or even below with a blanket of snow. Equally hardy are Collards and Sprouting Broccoli.
Hardy Greens - Many Asian greens such as Mizuna, a wide range of Mustards as well as escarole, radicchio, spinach and endive hold up well to cold temperatures. Lettuce and Parsley can withstand good amounts of frost and Swiss Chard will sometimes survive a winter freeze.
Root Vegetables - Beets, Carrots, Leeks, Parsnips, and other hardy root crops, are naturally protected from the cold by the soil in which they are growing. To extend their protection from hard freezes, apply a loose mulch of approximately 8 inches, which will make for an easier task of digging them up once the ground has become frozen solid elsewhere.