The Fall Garden

In spite of a short growing season, experiments by the authors show a fall garden can produce bountifully in Maine.

| September/October 1979

Reprinted by permission of Schocken Books, Inc. from Helen and Scott Nearing's Continuing the Good Life: Hall a Century of Homesteading. Copyright© 1979 by the authors.  

In our part of New England, the general gardening practice is to start planting on Decoration Day, which is late in May. Hardy things are planted first, followed weeks later by the more perishable crops. This sequence carries the garden to midsummer, when planting usually stops. Gardening is considered ended for the year in August, except for harvesting. When this is over, the land is left fallow or cover crops to prevent weeds from accumulating. Major gardening is considered over till the next spring.

Our practice is quite different. It closely approaches the Japanese way of gardening. Their land is so circumscribed that they must economize drastically on space. When they take out a radish, they replant a lettuce or other seed in the vacated spot. When we take out any section of a bed or row, we do almost the same as the Japanese until well into September. We plant in the spring, we plant in the summer, we plant in the fall. As planting space is opened up by harvesting early summer greens and roots, we immediately put in a fall garden of crops that can be planted late and will mature before or during light freezing.

Fall days with us are sunny and crisp, closely approximating the days of early spring in temperature. So we plant in the late summer and early fall the same type of vegetable that flourished in the spring and that again will have time to ripen in the fall: radish, lettuce, chard, mustard, spinach, collards, and early cabbage for greens. Even carrots when planted late will mature in the fall into little "finger" delicacies. All of the items we have mentioned thus far are frost-hardy. Most of them will live and thrive with night temperatures as low as 18 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the seeds will lie dormant and fail to germinate. Some will break ground and be frozen out. But many will sprout and grow. The results of fall planting have been well worth the effort, time, and our small expense for the experimental seeds.

This means that in September and October, when most other gardens are empty or weed-choked, our garden is full of up-and-coming greens. The fall garden can be almost as green as the spring and summer garden. The Decoration to Labor Day gardener does not expect this to happen. Visitors to our fall garden often remark on the amount of vegetables still in the ground. Members of a local Garden Club visited our place one day late in September. There was hardly a square foot of garden space empty. They exclaimed, "Your garden is as green as it was in June. It looks like spring, and we are almost in October. How do you do it?" Our answer is simple: Continue planting.

Early in the summer—when the first mustard greens, lettuce, spinach, and bunch onions are moving from the garden to the kitchen table—we are busy replacing them with root crops such as turnips and beets, which in turn will give way to young greens for fall use. At the same time in the early fall that hardy greens are going into the ground as seeds, it is possible to transplant main crop lettuce, endive, Chinese cabbage, and celery plants from seed flats to the garden beds. Following this system, the fall vegetable garden can supply fresh greens and roots a couple of months after early frosts will have wiped out squash, beans, and tomato vines and ended the spring and summer garden.

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