The growing season isn’t over with the arrival of cool weather. Until the first hard frost hits, you have time to plant, pick and plate delicious homegrown cool-weather crops — and save yourself some money in the produce aisle.
Favorable fall conditions mean growing cool weather crops is comparatively easy, with less care needed for a successful garden. Cool crops will start out strong, growing quickly and then slow their growth as days become shorter and cooler. You’ll also need to work less to protect your garden from destructive pests, as both insect and animal populations will taper off in fall. And since weeds will germinate less frequently, growing slower, weeding won’t be a time-consuming task. Finally, more rain and less sun and heat reduce the risk of crops falling victim to drought or too much heat.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of fall gardening is that you’ll have fresh, healthy produce on hand well into the cooler season. Many autumn vegetables can endure the first few frosts if you provide them with proper protection, like row covers, cold frames or cloche. Some varieties — like spinach, collards and kale — actually taste better when nipped by frost.
Fall Growing Tips
The first step to success is to know your growing season. In warm climates, fall crops can actually thrive throughout winter. In colder areas, the growing season will be shorter. Not sure when frost will arrive in your area? Check out the USDA frost map on the Bonnie Plants website.
Next, you need to ensure your growing spot is in tip-top shape. Regardless of where you choose to plant your garden — in the sunniest spot in the yard or in containers — it’s important to get the soil in shape; test the soil and add amendments if needed. Clear the ground and containers of any left-over garden debris, then add a 2-inch layer of mulch or compost, plus a balanced, natural fertilizer like Bonnie Plant Food, for a strong, healthy start.
Since fall’s growing season can be unpredictable, it’s important to give your garden every possible advantage. Get a jump-start and use transplants, like those offered by Bonnie Plants, in biodegradable pots, available at most garden retailers. They’re already six weeks old, so you’ll start growing right way, skip the volatile seed starting process and you’ll harvest six weeks sooner than if you start from seed.
Fall Variety Favorites
The plant pros at Bonnie Plants recommend some top performers for fall:
• Artwork Stir-Fry Broccoli — Also called stem broccoli, produces multiple long, edible stems with tender, bite-size heads instead of a single large head. This means you can harvest the small heads — perfect for stir-fries and sautéing.
• Brussels sprouts — Brussels sprouts are high in protein and vitamin C. These hardy “mini cabbages” grow along a thick stem and can stand up to frost.
• Bonnie hybrid cabbage — Cabbage heads will be ready to harvest when they’re firm and solid to the touch. Although they can withstand temps below 28 degrees, cabbages that go through a hard freeze won’t store as well, so be sure to harvest before temperatures drop very low.
• Georgia collards — The sweet, cabbage-like flavor of collards make them a favorite in southern dishes. Frost sweetens their flavor further, making collards a nutritious and delicious fall favorite.
• Spinach — A chill-loving green, spinach can produce abundant leaves ready to go from garden to table. Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse, and is high in vitamins A, C, K and E, as well as iron, maganese, folate and calcium.
• Cauliflower — Rich in vitamin C, cauliflower can withstand light frost and Bonnie’s White Hybrid can resist colder temperatures. Cauliflower is naturally low in calories and high in fiber.
Plant herbs too, like parsley, rosemary, thyme and onion chives; they’re wonderful culinary additions and they’re ready to harvest right away.
If you put proper practices into place this fall, you’ll get your garden off to the right start and reap an extra inning of a healthful and productive harvest. For more information on fall varieties and planting tips, visit www.bonnieplants.com.
This story was written by Joan Casanova of the Green Earth Media Group.