Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.


What to Plant Now for Your Fall and Winter Garden

late fall gardenGardeners dreaming of frost-touched collards, sweet winter roots, crisp fall lettuce and huge heads of broccoli need to get busy planning and planting now. Here in central Virginia and further north it is already time to start transplanting cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower seedlings started earlier in late June or July. Lettuce, winter roots, kale, Oriental and other leafy greens can be planted starting in July and continuing into September. Gardeners in the Carolinas, coastal Virginia and further south still have enough time to start all Brassica seedlings. For more precise planting dates in your area talk with experienced gardening neighbors or consult a fall planting schedule from your local Master Gardeners or state extension service. For some great tips and detailed info on fall timing in Virginia and the Carolinas see Southern Exposure’s Fall/Winter Growing Guide.

To keep the harvest coming through summer into fall and winter is a real juggling act. Begin by reviewing your plans for summer successions and starting seedlings for fall and winter vegetables. Take into account special considerations for fall: impending frosts and the decreasing temperatures and daylight. The liberal use of transplants helps with the transition from summer abundance to fall plenty in our Southern Exposure Seed Exchange trial garden beds. See our earlier post on Fall Planning and Planting for more tips on calculating the right time to sow and choosing the best crops for your fall garden.

Take care of the soil before you plant. Successfully growing multiple crops in one year means paying extra attention to building the soil. Before fall planting add generous amounts of compost and any other amendments recommended by your most recent soil test. 

Cover crops are especially important for four season organic gardeners. Ideally set aside one or more beds for summer cover crops like crowder peas, sun hemp, or buckwheat. Avoid bare soil in the fall and winter garden: plant fall and winter cover crops like oats, rye, vetch, or winter peas in any areas not being used for crops. We under sow corn and broccoli with clover to get a head start on our fall cover crop. In summer, we plant buckwheat in areas that will be open as little as 5 weeks to suppress weeds and add organic matter. Harvey Ussery points out some of the special benefits of these quick growing warm weather plants in Best Summer Cover Crops.

What to Plant in Late Summer

In Virginia, North Carolina and nearby states summer planting for fall and winter harvest starts in June with Brussels sprouts and accelerates in July with sowing seed for broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, cauliflower, and oriental greens to be transplanted to their final location after four weeks. Lettuce and Oriental greens are ready to move in only 2-3 weeks during mid-summer in Virginia and the Carolinas. 

Seedlings for fall plantings can be started in flats on benches high enough up (3 feet) to deter flea beetles, under spun polyester row cover, or in an enclosed shade structure. At our Southern Exposure Trial Gardens in Central Virginia we prefer to use outdoor seedling beds well supplied with compost in a location shaded from the harsh afternoon sun. The north side of a stand of corn, caged tomatoes, or pole bean trellis makes an excellent choice. Outdoor seedling beds should be covered with thin spun polyester row cover or the newer Proteknet row cover to guard against flea beetles and other insects. Transplanting makes for a faster turnaround when garden space becomes available. 

Don’t forget to plant a last summer succession of quick maturing beans, corn, squash, and cucumbers in late June or early July to mature and harvest just before frost. Keep plants growing fast and reduce risk of disease by providing regular and adequate moisture (1 inch per week).

In July and early August we direct sow chard, creasy greens, carrots, beets, winter radishes, and other roots. In the cases of lettuce and carrots summer succession plantings meld seamlessly into our fall garden plantings. Later in August and early September sow kale, arugula, turnips, rutabagas, spinach, and lots more lettuce. Make a late September sowing of kale and spinach to winter over as smaller plants under row cover, then make rapid growth in the lengthening days of early spring during what used to be called “the hunger gap” in March and April. Use row covers, cold frames or later plantings in a greenhouse to further extend the growing season. Leave plenty of room in the garden to plant garlic and perennial onions mid-October through Thanksgiving.

Ira Wallace works, lives, and gardens at Acorn Community Farm home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange where she coordinates variety selection and new seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+ varieties of non-GMO, open-pollinated, and organic seeds. Ira is also a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and Virginia Association for Biological Farming. She is a frequent presenter at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS and many other events throughout the Southeast.  Her new book The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast is available online and at booksellers everywhere.

Start a Free Produce Program for Farm-to-Community Pandemic Relief

 

We own a small fourth-generation farm in a town of about 4,000 in Berkshire County, Mass. We keep honeybees, chickens, grow fruit, veggies and herbs - but most of our income comes from hands-on workshops and classes at the farm. When the pandemic hit in March we had to cancel all in-person programming and, like many across the country and around the world, had to scramble to figure out what to do next while also taking steps to stay safe and healthy ourselves.

After speaking with members of the local Council on Aging, we learned about the high need for fresh produce for our town’s senior population. Because of our town’s small size, we were not able to take advantage of state or federally funded pandemic food security programs. We did not have anywhere in town large enough to store fresh produce that could be dispersed through these programs.

Of our 4,000 residents, around 35% are over 55 years old. Access to fresh foods directly impacts our immune systems and overall health. With the pandemic and higher risk of illness for our older residents simple things like going to the grocery store became dangerous for these community members. This seemed like a problem we could help to solve.

We had the space to grow fresh foods and the knowledge- we just needed a plan.

Finding Funding

Now that we had the start of a plan, we needed to figure out the financials. We save a lot of seeds each year and have established perennial foods, like raspberries, blueberries, asparagus and rhubarb so we had a good start on expanding our growing capacity. Our plan was to fundraise to cover the cost of foods grown on the farm so we could provide free, fresh produce directly to local seniors each week.

We shared our idea during a Virtual Pitch Contest through the nonprofit EforAll — Entrepreneurship for All, a national nonprofit supporting new and existing businesses. Look them up for great resources in your area! — and were awarded 2nd Place along with a small grant to get the program started. We then held an on-line auction with farm goods and crafts to raise an additional $1,200. With the funds we had raised, we could distribute $200 of free, fresh produce weekly for 12 weeks.

Idea, check. Funding, check.

How We Organized

Now that we had the funds to move forward, it was time to get word out about our program. We decided to offer both weekly delivery and a distribution table, in order to reach as many seniors as possible.

Contacting seniors during the pandemic became another challenge. Churches, Town Hall and the public library, all spaces where events and programs are regularly shared, were closed. Council on Aging was not holding any programming and most seniors were not using Facebook or Instagram, where we do a lot of our publicity. We had to get creative. Through word of mouth with Council on Aging members, and social media targeted at family members of local seniors we spread the word about how to sign up for weekly produce deliveries and distribution. In no time, we had close to 10 households signed up, and a long list of community members offering to volunteer and help bring the program to life.

Volunteers were organized into weekly shifts at the distribution table, and weekly delivery drivers.Along with free fresh produce, we decided to distribute recipes prepared by a local nutritionist, and handmade cotton face masks each week as another way to help keep our neighbors safe during the health crisis.

Community Connections

Our farm is off the beaten path, and we wondered if it made sense to find a more central distribution location for visibility and accessibility. After some online networking, a local church in the center of town offered the use of their parking lot for weekly distributions.

Community members reached out and offered to donate "extra" veggies from their home gardens as well, both expanding the amount of produce we could distribute each week and creating wonderful community connections.

Other local farms contacted us about the program and offered to donate produce from their farms as well, further creating community and supporting other local businesses.

We quickly realized this program was providing much more than just free, fresh produce to seniors. It was providing safe social interactions for older residents who had been secluded during the pandemic. It was connecting local farms to the community in new ways during a health and economic crises. It was also providing ways for community members to be involved in an impactful way during very challenging and emotional times.

Unexpected Benefits

Our family has lived in town since the 1930s when our great grandparents immigrated from Norway and started farming here. When we started re-building the farm we had a lot of older community members sharing stories about what the farm was like generations ago. One of our Free Produce Program delivery members shared that she had grown up with our grandparents, and that it "felt like Christmas" every week when she received her produce delivery.

Another local senior came to the distribution table and shared she had spent the summer living on the farm the year after our family bought it, when she was about 4 years old. With no running water, and no electricity at that time, there was plenty of time to spend outside. She commented on seeing deer in the yard and telling her parents there were "reindeer outside"!

A former town resident learned about the program and offered to donate her beautiful dried flower artwork as gifts for the seniors we deliver to, and to be used for future fundraising. These connections to our family’s history are invaluable and have been and incredible unexpected benefit of pulling Free Produce Program together.

Moving Forward

This year has had plenty of challenges. Community is more important now than ever and helping those around us has become an even greater priority in these trying times.

We have our last deliveries and distribution this coming week and while we will miss the weekly socially distant community network that has developed over the past five months, the winter will give us time to plan and improve Free Produce Program for next year. We are working on gathering information from participants through surveys so we can make the program even better next year. Moving forward, it is our goal to expand Free Produce Program so we can provide free, fresh produce to more local seniors and people in need. We are networking with other local farms in neighboring towns to try and get the program started in other communities as well.

Free Produce Program is an easy model for farms and organizations to follow, and the positive impacts are immediate. People are looking for more ways to support their communities, and small-scale programs like this show direct results. Please reach out if you would like more information about how we set this community program up. Stay safe and healthy everyone!

Kristen Tool is co-owner of Olsen Farm in Lanesborough, Mass., where she works with her husband to revive 28 acres of a four-generation family farm by keeping bees, growing fruit, vegetables and herbs without the use of pesticides, raising poultry, cultivating mushrooms, leading workshops, and preparing plant remedies. She is the Secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association and manages a crew of incredible teens who run the local farmers market through a nonprofit program, Roots Rising. Connect with Kristen at Olsen Farm on Facebook, on Instagram @olsen_farm, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Late-Season Tomatoes: Management, Season Extension and Preserving

Tomato plants before trimming 

Untrimmed tomatoes 

We can never grow enough tomatoes. It might be autumn by the calendar, but I’m not ready to give up on tomatoes just yet. They are my favorite vegetable and I will not let them go without a fight. Because we prefer the taste and productivity of heirloom indeterminate varieties, we typically grow 16 to 24 varieties, one plant of each. This gives us a great flavor mix for all the canning we do: salsa, stewed, sauce, soup, juice, catsup, and a long (for Wisconsin) tomato season to enjoy them fresh-picked from late July until early October.

By mid-September, the plants are huge and overgrowing their 5-foot concrete reinforcement wire cages, as seen in the first picture. Since any new flowers won’t have time to ripen before killing frost — which comes any time from mid-September to mid-October here in central Wisconsin — we give all of the plants a trimming and cut off the growing tips of each branch back to the last green fruits or to the top of the cage if there are no fruits beyond it. That makes it easier to cover the plants for the first few light frosts and let them continue to grow and ripen through Indian summer.

The tomatoes are shown with their haircuts in the photo below.

Tomato plants after trimming

Trimmed tomato plants.

In the photo below, I’m holding up a branch of the more than 10-foot cherry tomato vine which we didn’t cut back. It has grown all the way back to the ground and is now going along the ground.  If that one dies, we are okay with no more cherries this year.

Cherry tomato not trimmed

Ten-foot cherry tomato vines

What to Do with Late-Season Tomatoes

Canning. But we’re not done yet! With the shortage on canning lids due to Covid-19, we were still able to get most of the tomatoes processed as usual but are saving our last few dozen lids for the pears that are being harvested this week, so we are now coring and freezing the tomatoes whole. Coring them before freezing makes them much easier to process when they thaw, with the added bonus of the skins slipping right off without the boiling water. We will probably be making more salsa and sauce as soon as lids are available. (I don’t know what will happen if we don’t have lids back in stock before hunting season and the meat section of our freezer is needed again!)

Seed-saving. I also plan to save tomato seeds for the first time this year. A lot of our seed packets are getting older and there are some varieties we couldn’t do without. I won’t be doing large batches of seeds like Pam Dawling does, so I will just squeeze the tomato pulp into a jar marked with the variety and let it sit for a few days. After the fermentation is complete, I will wash the seeds and spread them to dry on a napkin. Once dry, I may even leave them on the napkin and just fold it into an envelope marked with the variety and date since I don’t think we will be sharing them with others at this point. If someone does want some seeds, it will be easy enough to pick off the seeds from the napkin at that point.

Tomato chutney. Finally, after a killing frost is forecast, we will pick all the tomatoes from the plant, ripe and green. They will be sorted and anything blemished or fully ripe will be processed (or frozen). The green ones with blemishes are made into a green tomato chutney, minus the blemishes, for use on winter salads (so we still can have tomatoes on them!) or on chicken dishes.

Ripening green tomatoes for months. The unripe, blemish-free tomatoes are put into plant trays with dividers (a seasonal use for our starting trays). and are kept in a dark, unheated storage area where it typically stays around 55 degrees. Our goal is to enjoy fresh tomatoes on salads until Christmas, though we don’t make that every year.  The flavor isn’t as good as when they ripen on the vine, but they are still better and more satisfying than anything purchased.

Sorting unripe tomatoes

Sorting unripe tomatoes

Stored tomatoes for ripening

Stored tomatoes for monitoring

Kathy Shaw has gardened for more than 30 years, including as a test gardener for Organic Gardening magazine. She and her husband, Pat, are Master Gardeners and owners of Kathy’s Island Botanicals, where they make and sell natural bath products. They live in an earth-sheltered home on 35 acres in central Wisconsin. Read all of Kathy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Grow Vegetables Year-Round with Cold Frames

Melissa K. Norris shares her season-extension expertise as part of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR Cold Frames for Winter Gardening Course. Register to watch her videos and more from some of leading experts in year-round gardening.

Harvesting fresh vegetables from the garden year-round is something almost every gardener dreams of, but for those who garden in northern or cold climates, it seems impossible without a full heated greenhouse.

While a heated greenhouse does give you great options on vegetable choices, the simple use of cold frames and season extenders can help many a climate to extend their growing season without the expense of heat and a permanent structure.

Cold frames are a simple structure placed over plants with typically four sides and a clear top to allow light in. They especially help protect plants from overnight lows and frosts without an artificial heat source, but can also be used during the day in the fall and winter when day-time temps are beneath 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

If cold frames are left on during the day, especially sunny days, you’ll need a way of propping open the lid or allowing some air flow to avoid overheating the plants.

Choosing Vegetables for Cold Frames

Cold frames work best when growing cold-hardy or cool-weather vegetables. They don’t generally provide enough protection to grow warm-weather crops all winter, but provide enough warm and insulation to grow cool weather crops throughout the fall and winter months, even with snow fall.

Some cold frames provide more protection than others and pairing the right crop based on your overnight low temperatures is key to success. In my video, I share easy cold frame ideas and how much temperature protection each one provides.

How Much Growing Time Can I Add?

Season extenders are used in the spring and fall to extend the normal growing season in the garden. While they can be a structure, often these are row covers, frost fabric, or even Mason jars over top of small starts.

Season extenders allow gardeners to plant four to two weeks earlier in the spring and can help extend the crop growing time in the fall by two to four weeks. When used in both spring and fall, this gives you up to two months of extended growing time. They’re especially helpful to warm up the soil in spring for early direct sowing and to protect young seedlings from late frosts or low overnight temperatures.

Get Season-Extension Training

Watch my video for easy season extenders from existing items in your home as well as low budget options you can easily construct or purchase yourself.

Melissa K. Norris is a 5th-generation homesteader who helps hundreds of thousands of people each month to use simple modern homesteading for a healthier and self-sufficient life through her website, MelissaKNorris.com, popular Pioneering Today podcast, the Pioneering Today Academy, and her books. She lives with her husband and two kids in their own little house of the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. Connect with Melissa on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Harvesting, Storing, and Processing Apples

apples on a tree

Photo by Getty Images/querbeet

Apples are ready to pick when the skin color deepens and the fruit comes away easily from the tree. The presence of windfalls is a good indication that fruits are ready to pick. Not all apples are ready at the same time, so pick regularly as individual clusters become ripe. Apples at the sides and top of the tree will usually ripen first because they receive more sunlight. If in doubt — taste one!

To pick an apple, cup it in your hand, lift, and twist gently. It should detach along with its stalk. Always handle apples gently to avoid bruising them, and never tug an apple from the tree or you may damage the fruiting spurs or cause apples nearby to drop. Use a stepladder to reach apples higher up on the tree, but take care to avoid over-reaching in case you lose your balance.

Early season varieties are best eaten soon after harvesting as they don’t store well. Midseason varieties will store for a few weeks, and late season varieties should be good for up to six months. Apples destined for storage must be in perfect condition. Check stored apples regularly and remove any that are going soft, brown, or rotting.

Store your apples in a cool but frost-free, dark, well-ventilated place such as a shed or garage. Store apples on slatted trays to ensure good air circulation. Make sure they don’t touch, or else wrap them in newspaper. Different varieties store for different lengths of time — keep them separate and use those with a shorter storage life sooner.

If you’ve got too many apples to store, there are many ways to preserve them — stew and freeze them, dehydrate them, turn them in jams, jellies, chutneys, or sauces, or press them and make juice, wine, or even hard cider!

Learn more about harvesting, storing, and preserving apples in this video.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Soil for Raised Garden Beds: What Do You Need to Know?

DSCN0180 - Copy

People who buy our Durable GreenBed raised garden bed kits often ask what type of soil they should use to fill their new beds. Here’s the advice we typically share. Once you’ve considered that, read on for some bonus tips we share with customers on how to decrease the amount of soil you need and keep your garden soil healthy.

What type of soil works best for raised beds?

In situ soil

The best and greenest soil for your raised beds is soil that comes from your property. There’s no need to transport soil onsite (or in situ, in Latin) in a car or plastic bag. And if you’re already gardening organically, you know your soil is free from pesticides, herbicides and other contaminants.

However, we realize this isn’t possible for everyone. People often purchase raised beds because their soil is so poor they can’t grow in it. If you’re concerned about using your own soil, there are a few things you can do to determine whether it will work in your raised beds.

The first is to determine what type of soil you have. There are two ways you can research your soil type at home. One option is to wet down the soil, let it dry slightly, then try to form it into a ball. Clay soil will easily take on a round form; sandy soil will crumble in your hand. If you get a result somewhere in between, you have loam.

You can also put some soil into a jar with a small amount of detergent, shake it well, and leave it overnight. The way it settles will tell you whether you have sand, loam or clay soil. Get more details on how to perform this test here.

The other thing to consider is testing your soil for minerals and nutrients. The most accurate results will come from a soil testing company. If you decide to get your soil tested by a professional,   

If you don’t want to shell out the money for a professional soil tests (they can be expensive), buy a home testing kit. They aren’t nearly as accurate, and will only provide information about a limited number of soil nutrients. But they can be a good place to start if you suspect your soil is nutrient-deficient. Look for soil test kits at hardware stores.

Your soil plus compost

If your soil is decent but could use a boost, add compost. You can mix soil with up to 50 percent compost and get great results from your raised beds.

Keep in mind that compost isn’t fertilizer. You’ll still need to fertilize flowers, vegetables and fruits as needed throughout the year. But compost is always a good addition to your raised garden beds. Plan to invest in some of it no matter where your soil comes from (more on that below).

Purchased soil

Another soil option for raised garden beds is purchased soil. The best place to get it is a reputable garden center, landscape supply store or hardware store. Sometimes people will post fill dirt to Craig’s List or other sites. There’s no good way of determining whether this dirt is “clean” or not, so buying it can be a risk, especially if you’re an organic gardener.

A better option might be to reach out to people you know and see if they have fill dirt they’re willing to share with you. The added bonus is that the price tag for your soil may go from high to free.

How to decrease the amount of soil you need for raised beds

Another question we get is how much soil it takes to fill raised garden beds. The best way to determine that is to use a soil calculator like this one from Gardener’s Supply Company. But here’s a great suggestion to decrease the amount of dirt you need to dig up or buy for your raised beds.

Put straw bales into the base of each garden bed after it’s assembled. Add a high-nitrogen fertilizer to the bales and soak them with water. That will heat them up and super-charge the composting process that will naturally occur. Leave the bales for three weeks, then add soil to fill the bed. Over time the straw will break down and contribute to the fertility of your raised garden bed.

Maintaining soil health in raised beds

Putting healthy, high-quality soil in a raised garden bed is one thing. Keeping that soil healthy is another. Here are some tips for maintaining the health of the soil in your raised garden beds.

Grow a cover crop

Fava beans, crimson clover, peas and similar types of cover crops (sometimes called “green manure”) fix nitrogen in the soil and draw nutrients up where plant roots can access them. The cover crop can also be folded down into the soil prior to planting, which provides rich organic matter. Cover crops are planted in the fall and removed in the spring. The Cornell University Extension Service has a great guide to using cover crops.

Cover your raised bed during the winter

Another benefit of cover crops is that they keep rain from falling on soil and compacting it. If you decide not to use a cover crop, it’s worth covering beds with something else to keep the rain off. Leaves, straw, cloches or plastic can all work.

Add compost

Compost adds to soil porosity, provides a gradual release of nutrients, brings beneficial microorganisms and helps keep soil pH neutral. Add it once a year to increase soil quality. One notable difference between compost and fertilizer is that compost has a cumulative effect. Compost continually “builds” soil health, which ensures your raised garden beds will be a great place to grow for years to come.

4 Cool-Weather Crops to Grow in a Raised Garden Bed this Fall

Garden Grid watering herbs 

Garden grid watering herbs 

Some home growers are intimidated by fall growing because of the cooler temperature, especially since most of their current crops are suited for summer. But a lot of vegetables thrive during fall, so you can still enjoy a bountiful harvest when the temperature drops. 

The trick is to choose the right crops. Fall is the season for growing various hardy greens that flourish in cold temperatures, such as spinach, kale, and mustard greens. Fast-growing root crops and some spring-harvested vegetables also get a second chance in autumn. Some even taste sweeter and crisper when matured in cooler temperatures.

The first step is to get the timing right for planting your fall seeds.

When to Plant Fall Seeds

Most autumn crops are seeded in mid- to late summer when the soil is dry. The timing can make it difficult to establish roots, but you have to plant early because growing days are limited. 

Many cold-weather crops, such as spinach and lettuce, won’t germinate when the temperature is too high. Full-coverage garden watering systems can help since they surround all plants with water, helping to maintain consistent soil moisture and prevent overly wet or overly dry patches in your garden. You can also build a hoop house over your garden bed using a shade cloth to shelter your crops from the hot sun. This will help your seeds and seedlings take root even if you plant them in mid-summer.

One trick is to determine the first frost date in your location and the days to maturity of the crops you want to grow. Add one to two weeks to the maturing time indicated on seed packs to account for shorter, cooler days. This information will help you calculate when best to plant. 

Four Fall Vegetables to Grow

Spinach

Spinach is among the most cold-tolerant salad green. It can survive some light frost, making it the perfect autumn crop. The cold temperature also helps the spinach produce tastier leaves. 

Plus, spinach and other leafy greens grow well in raised garden beds. Leafy greens despise soggy roots, so they love the quick-draining soil in raised beds.

Spinach Growing Guide

Sow spinach seeds as early as six weeks before the last frost, or as soon as you can get a trowel into the soil. Be sure to buy fresh seeds every year because spinach seeds don’t store well. Seed heavily because not all of them will germinate. 

Spinach is a leafy green, so it will greatly benefit from a hoop house or cold frame. Once the seedlings have at least two true leaves, thin them to three or four inches apart to prevent overcrowding. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.

Hand-pulling weeds and cultivating can harm the spinach roots. Instead, layer a light mulch of grass clippings, hay, or straw on the soil along the spinach rows to hinder weed growth.

Replant a fresh batch of seeds every two weeks to have spinach growing until winter. 

Lettuce 

Lettuce is the base of a fall salad garden. Apart from giving you a bounty of fresh salad greens, a lettuce garden is also very ornamental. The vivid range of colors, shapes, sizes, and textures make an aesthetically pleasing garden bed. Vulcan, Red Salad Bowl, and Winter Density are some great fall-harvested lettuce.

Just like spinach, lettuce is a leafy green, so their planting and growing requirements are similar.  Lettuce sulks when the temperature gets too high. The seeds can join your spinach in the hoop house to protect them from the heat, along with other leafy greens. 

Lettuce Growing Guide

Choose lettuce with loose leaves if you’re growing it in partial shade. You can plant the seeds directly into the garden bed’s soil. Don’t sow too deeply because they need light to germinate. 

For most leaf lettuce varieties you can grow 6 plants per square foot.

Lettuce doesn’t need to develop deep roots. In fact, you want to encourage leaf growth more than rooting. Water your lettuce frequently, consistently, and lightly. You want the soil moist but not soggy, similar to spinach. Leafy greens tend to rot when overwatered.

Fall Vegetable Garden Leaf Lettuce

Most varieties of lettuce can be harvested 30 to 70 days after planting. Time the harvest depending on your preferred leaf size. You can remove a few leaves at a time or cut the whole head near ground level. Harvest every other lettuce plant to give the remaining heads more room to grow.

Carrots 

Carrots are a staple in hearty autumn stews and vegetable medleys. Since they’re a root crop, carrots grow well in raised beds. The advantage of garden beds is you can choose your soil depending on the crop you’re growing. Carrots love deep, rock-free soil that gives them space to grow big. 

Fall Vegetable Garden Carrot

Carrot Growing Guide

Sow your carrots three weeks before the last frost, then replant every two to three weeks after the initial batch. Make sure to plant your last batch two to three months before the first expected frost. 

Clear the surface of the soil from rocks, trash, and other large pieces of debris. Sow the seeds about half an inch deep, planting 6-16 carrots per square foot (reference the Garden In Minutes® plant spacing guide for extra insight on how to determine your carrot varieties spacing needs). Cover them with a quarter-inch of soil/compost to encourage the seedlings to emerge. Water gently to avoid washing the seeds away.

Once the tops reach 2 inches in height, thin (remove) any carrot seedlings that are growing on top of, or right next to each other, leaving the largest of the seedlings still growing. You can gradually apply extra soil as the seedlings grow to retain moisture in the soil. If the soil dries out, slowly remoisten the bed over a period of days. Drenching the carrots suddenly may cause the roots to break. 

Don’t hand-pull weeds because carrot roots are fragile. You can cut them at ground level to avoid crowding your crops.

Plant your carrots along with other root crops, such as radishes and beets. This makes it easier for you to remember their care requirements.

Pumpkin

Pumpkins are another fall staple. Plant them mid-summer if you want them ready in time for Halloween. You want pumpkin varieties with a tough skin and thin inside flesh for the perfect jack-o’-lanterns. But Baby Pam and Long Pie make the best pumpkins for eating because they have thicker flesh.

It can be difficult to plant pumpkins since they need plenty of room to grow and creep. You can still grow them in a raised bed, but ensure each plant has about 2 square feet of its own growing space for roots to spread. Vines and fruit will of course take up more room and are fine to creep out of the garden or if you prefer, you can use sturdy trellises to support the weight of the vines, leaves, and fruits. 

Pumpkin Growing Guide

Sow your pumpkin seeds in an area that gets full sunlight. As with other vegetable crops, gently soak your pumpkins once a week. Pumpkin leaves tend to look wilted in the afternoon heat, but this doesn’t immediately mean they’re thirsty. Avoid watering the plants when this happens. Check if the foliage perks up again in the evening or under a cloud cover to confirm if your pumpkins are parched.

Harvest your pumpkins when they reach your desired size and color. Make sure to do it before the first heavy frost, since pumpkins are not frost-tolerant.

Apart from these four crops – spinach, lettuce, carrots, and pumpkins, other fall superstars include arugula, brussels sprouts, zucchini, and turnips. Some herbs also thrive in autumn, such as cilantro, parsley, and basil, among others. 

Choosing fall crops all comes down to your preference. But you also want to take note of the sunlight in your garden to provide the best growing conditions for your crops. Ask your greengrocer, local grower, or the store you bought the seeds from about the specific needs of each crop.

Bryan Traficante co-founded GardenInMinutes in 2013, turning a passion for home gardening and innovation into a family-owned venture to make starting a quality garden easier. Bryan and his family invented the Garden Grid watering system, which combines square-foot planting principles with ground-level adjustable irrigation and no complicated assembly. They also craft tool-free, modular garden kits  and provide time-saving gardening insights on their blog and social media pages. Find Bryan and GardenInMinutes on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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