Enjoy a Fall Harvest of Vegetables

A little careful planning and a little succession planting during the midsummer dog days can lead to an abundant fall harvest, helping you almost double the usual production from your garden.

| July/August 1980

If you're like most gardeners, you probably plant a few late crops each summer (more as an afterthought than anything else), but perhaps you've never seriously considered coaxing a full second harvest from your vegetable plot. I know I never gave the possibility much thought ... until one autumn morning when my shovel hit a 12-inch-long white radish (of the oriental Dalkon variety) buried deep in the still warm earth. That delectable vegetable inspired me to systematically plan and cultivate a late fall harvest in my backyard plot.

Since the "day of the Dalkon," I've learned (mostly by trial and error) how to nearly double my annual harvest—even here in Minnesota, where the growing season is quite short—by starting a second crop during the hot weather months. And you can enjoy the same success ... with just a little planning and careful attention to the details that make late summer and fall planting different from spring sowing. 

The Drawing Board

Any venture into three season gardening should begin with thorough planning ... including seed selection and a "blueprint" plan to fit your particular growing season. If you're not sure of the dates of the last killing spring frost and the first autumn freeze in your area, the county agricultural extension agent can provide you with the information.

You might be surprised to find that the length of your own property's frost-free growing season is different from that of even your closest neighbor's land ... because of variations in the terrain. As you know, warm air rises ... so a hilltop garden is encouraged to produce abundant harvests both early and late in the season. On the other hand, the cooler air in valleys (especially those with spring-fed streams) may surround a lowland garden with a cold and clammy atmosphere that's not conducive to either early or late cropping.

Although it's hardly practical to move your family to an area with a longer growing season just to be able to try succession planting, you can make some onsite adjustments that will help you grow late crops successfully. First of all, be sure to locate your garden where it won't be shaded by tall trees ... which rob the young plants of sunlight and soil nutrients. It's also a good idea to place your vegetable plots on the south and east sides of buildings ... or to protect the crops from punishing north winds by putting in shrubs (or another type of low windbreak) along the garden's vulnerable edge. You might also want to plant your early and late crops toward the top of a slope, or in raised beds. 

Do Your Homework

Once you know the limits of your frost-free season and have chosen a site for your garden that will make the best use of that time period, you're ready to pore over the seed catalogs. You will, of course, need frost-tolerant vegetables in order to extend your garden's productive life into the autumn. Hints in catalog descriptions, such as "sown in early August for fall crops" ... "will increase in eating quality into late fall" ... and "best in September when nights are cooler," will help direct you to the proper selections.

9/15/2017 9:42:38 PM

Its a good article but its 37 years old. so many things have changed

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