Time to Plant the Fall Garden

Reader Contribution by Douglas Stevenson
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If you think garden season starts in the spring and ends at the first frost, think again! When the tomatoes are all gone and summer squash is but a memory, you will truly appreciate the taste of fresh, green vegetables coming to you right from the garden.

Depending on your climate, you can be harvesting from your garden all year long, including through the winter months! Here in Tennessee, we begin planting our fall crops in late August/early September, starting with winter greens.

What to Plant in Fall

Greens (kale, collards, spinach)
Cole (broccoli, cabbage)
Root vegetables (beets, carrots, garlic) 

Many fall plants have extremely small seeds, so it is very easy to plant them too thick. This means you’ll need to thin, removing the extra seedlings. You can start out leaving a plant every six inches, then as they grow larger, thinning again a few weeks later with a plant every foot to 16 inches.

These young kale seedlings need to be thinned!

Kale and collard greens thinned to every 6 inches.

You may even be able to transfer some of your thinnings to new rows or fill in gaps in a row. Just don’t be surprised if at first your transplants go completely limp and look like they have died. Your plants have simply gone into “shock” from the disturbance to their roots. Simply water them in and keep them well watered. By the next day, maybe two, you will find the transplants have rebounded and come back to life.

Transplants will often go into “shock” and appear limp and dying, before rebounding back to life. To help you in planting these super small seeds, some companies now offer “pelleted” seeds. Each individual seed has been coated in clay or a similar inert material, encasing the seed in a hard shell that dissolves when wet. This makes it much easier to space plants properly, either by hand or using a walk-behind planter. You also save yourself time and tedious effort, eliminating the need to do any thinning. You will find that pelleted seeds are the perfect solution for carrots. Lettuce seeds spaced to produce large heads are infinitely easier to sow. Other seeds available in pelleted form include beets, parsnips, many types of flowers, onions, herbs such as basil, celery, and Swiss chard.

Tiny seeds can be purchased coated in an inert materials with a hard shell that dissolve when wet, making them much easier to plant at the proper spacing.

I find vegetables like broccoli and cabbage easier to grow by setting out plants. Ideally we’ll start our own plants from seed, but when life gets busy, I often find it more convenient to pick up a few trays of starts from my local garden center.

The plants have been staggered to give each one more room as they grow to full size.

Before mulching I lay down soaker hose. This allows me to water as needed. The soil stays moist the underneath the mulch and does not dry out when exposed to the hot sun of late summer.

Next I mulch my broccoli transplant with straw to eliminate weeds and hold in moisture.

Using Row Cover in the Fall Garden

The last step is to cover the plants with an insect barrier made from polyester cloth called “remay.” Fall insects have had all summer to grow and develop an appetite. Remay offers protection without resorting to pesticides! Remay is sold in various weights or thicknesses, offering frost protection as well. As temperatures turn colder you can replace the remay with clear plastic, which offers even more protection. If power is available, on extremely cold nights you can place an electric, incandescent light under the plastic. The heat from the bulb will be enough to protect your plants from even very hard freezes.

Don’t miss out on this most rewarding times to garden! You taste buds will thank you!

Join Douglas at the upcoming MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Seven Springs, Penn., where he’ll will be speaking on Friday afternoon about growing food, green building, and his life at The Farm Community, one of the largest and most successful ecovillages in the world. For more about The Farm, check out Douglas’s two books, Out to Change the World: The Evolution of The Farm Community and The Farm Then and Now. You can also see it all firsthand by attending one of his Farm Experience Weekends at The Farm in Summertown, Tenn.

Read about Douglas’ Recycled Log Cabin.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368