Today, I have a special treat for you. Our lovely Cooking Coach and Gardening Guru, Meredith has a great post about how to keep your garden going into cooler weather. (If you haven’t already, check out our introduction to Meredith and her great work with the Family Nutrition Program.)
Kids are off to school, apples are coming in to the farmers markets….the signs are all there! It’s time to start planning your fall vegetable garden. There are many types of vegetables that thrive even through mild frosts. If you start planting now you can still be harvesting what you sow as late as early December! Don’t forget that you can buy seeds and seedlings for vegetables using your SNAP benefits. You may see seedlings at your local farmers market, but if you don’t you can always ask your favorite farmer to bring you some the next week!
So what grows best when planted in the fall? Favorites like broccoli, collard greens, kale, radishes, spinach, cabbage and even carrots and lettuce.
The Fall Factor
The secret to successful fall gardening is to plan for something called “the fall factor”. All that really means is that you have to remember that the plants will grow more slowly due to cooler weather and less sunlight as the days get shorter. The best way to deal with this is to sprout your seeds indoors and then transplant them to your garden.
Sprout Your Seeds
To sprout your seeds simply wet a paper towel (not dripping wet, you can wring it out) and fold it in half. Spread your seeds on half of the towel and fold the other half over them, so the seeds are covered. You can fold the towel and seeds up one more time, and then place the whole thing in a plastic sandwich bag. Be sure to label each bag so you know what you are growing! Leave the bags in a warm place, and check them in a week. They should be growing white “tails” of roots.
Plant Your Seeds
Once your seeds have sprouted to about an inch in length you can plant them in your garden the way you would plant a normal seed. (You do not need to make sure the “tail” is above the soil.) If you are finding it difficult to get them off of the paper towel simply rip up the paper towel around them and plant the seeds and towel together. There are a lot of great videos on Youtube if you want see how to sprout seeds for planting. I like this one.
It is best to plant your seeds in the garden when the soil is a bit moist, like after a light rain or you can water the soil the day before you plan to plant. If it is still hot in your area, cover the seeds with soil twice as deeply as you would in the spring. Make sure to keep the soil moist until the plants break the surface of the soil. A layer of mulch can also help to keep your seeds moist, but should not be too thickly applied so that the seeds still get some sunlight. Loose straw or pine needles are great options for this.
Beyond the Frost
Most of the vegetables I mentioned above can withstand some cold and light frost. As the season progresses and frosts start they can still be harvested and will even have their flavor enhanced by a touch of frost. Kale, carrots, spinach, and lettuce can even survive most of the winter if you mulch them deeply (about 8 inches deep). What a bargain for a $1 packet of seeds! Don’t be afraid to try fall gardening in containers either! Containers will freeze more quickly than plants in a garden, so they probably won’t grow throughout the whole winter, but they will last through a few frosts.
For a more in-depth review of fall vegetable gardening, check out this helpful publication from Virginia’s Cooperative Extension. You can also call your local extension office to ask specific questions. Good luck!