As summer winds down, it’s time to convert your garden into a patchwork of crisp fall greens and flavorful roots! There are a few simple steps to get a fall garden growing: prepare your garden beds, plant crops that are suited for fall growing conditions, and maintain. It's time to get started!
Prepare your garden beds
To transition your garden from summer to fall, clear out any spent crops. Remove bolting greens and early plantings of summer squash, cucumbers, and beans that are nearing the end of their cycle (do not discard insect infested and diseased plant debris into your compost pile). Some of the root systems may be well-established and difficult to remove by hand. I use the Golden Fork, easily becoming one of the most useful tools in my garden. Just push the sturdy fork in with your feet (jump on it if you must) and lift and loosen using the ergonomic T-shaped handle.
Remember, leaving a cover crop in the unused beds will help amend your soil come spring. I have chickweed and clover that will remain in the resting beds. Also consider leaving a few sunflowers that have gone to seed for the birds to enjoy and a few stands of dead stems, which can serve as an overwintering habitat for native pollinators. Keep summer crops, like tomatoes and okra, which can continue to produce fruits up until the first frost. If you are short on space, experiment with a sowing of leafy greens and shallow roots, such as lettuce or radishes, under and around such crops. These cool weather vegetables can benefit from filtered shade on the hot days of early autumn.
Once you’ve cleared a space to plant, replenish the soil with organic compost. For an extra boost, toss in biologically active microorganisms, naturally found in manure.
This year I harvested my goat manure. Goats not only produce neat pelletized droppings, but their manure doesn’t typically attract insects or burn plants as does manure from cows or horses. Goat manure is virtually odorless and is beneficial for the soil. I rake the poop out into a wheel barow, straw and all and distribute it amongst the beds. Scoop, dump, and voila! DONE!
Another reason why goat manure is the perfect starter compost, is because goat droppings can be used in nearly any type of garden IMMEDIATELY without having to wait for a “breaking down” compost period. And when left to break down into compost, goat manure in garden beds can create the optimal growing conditions for your plants come spring! Read more about Uses For Goat Manure.
Unless you have had a soil test done, hold off on fertilizers with high levels of NPK- nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Rather, add light, slow release, fertilizers such as Symphony (baked chicken manure). Symphony and other soil amendments can be purchased by the pound in the ‘soil bar’ in the shop.
Choose plants that are suited for fall growing conditions
Many garden vegetables thrive in the cooler weather of autumn and will continue to produce into the winter months with a little bit of protection. These cool-weather crops are extremely flavorful, because when temperatures drop, they will convert starches into sugars, which act as an anti-freezing agent for their cells. Frost-kissed carrots are incredibly sweet as opposed to those grown in mild climates, which can taste bland or even bitter.
What vegetables should you plant in your fall garden? The list is similar to that of spring vegetables, such as: lettuce, beets, carrots, spinach, peas, kale, mustards, arugula, turnips, bunching onions and chard. In parts of the southeast, like Asheville, you can even grow cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, as long as seeds germinate in late July and you prepare for and early frost. If you missed the window, it’s not too late to put transplants in the ground. Stop by the shop to choose from a variety of heirloom and organic vegetable starts from Appalachian Seed. We also carry seeds by Baker Creek Seed Company and Asheville’s own Sow True Seed.
For a planting schedule, check out the Farmer’s Almanac and Johnny’s Selected Seeds free online calendars. Simply plug in your zip code for a customized calendar. For more accurate dates, contact your local Cooperative Extension Agent or talk with experienced gardeners. They will attest that you can fudge dates. Elliot Coleman's Winter Harvest Handbook is an excellent guide to extending the harvest through the winter months.
Maintain your fall garden
Seeds and delicate transplants are at risk of drying out in the heat of August and September. To ensure success, plant in the cool of the day, and keep the soil consistently moist until your plants are established. Applying a 4-6 inch layer of mulch (straw, shredded leaves, or grass clippings) around your transplants will help keep moisture in the soil. If you sow seeds, a light layer of straw can prevent them from drying out during the germination stage.
As evening temperatures cool, the garden pests you battled in the spring will creep back in. Check out our blog post Slugs, Aphids, and Flea Beetles, Oh My! for tips on managing these insects. Another pest worth mentioning is the cabbage worm. They love to munch on your kale, cabbage, collards, and other members of the brassica family. The Farmer’s Almanac shares good advice on how to identify and remove this pest. Swing by our shop to pick up some row cover, yellow sticky tabs, or bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt) spray. Interested in natural pest control? We recommend grabbing a copy of Rodale’s The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control.
Enter your fall gardening questions or tips in the comments below! If you don’t have a garden, but wish you did, check out our blog How to Create a Raised Bed to get started.