Who Said It Is Too Late To Start A Garden?!

Jessica Smith

August 17, 2017

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Who Said It Is Too Late To Start A Garden?!

Missed the Spring gardening hype? Your garden fizzling out?

The Fall season is upon us and it is never too late to grow some amazing food! The Fall garden is one of my favorites. The weather is comfortable, the kale is sweeter, and the carrots will ruin your ability to ever enjoy another store bought carrot. Yep, it is true. Just grow your own and forget the store carrots anyways!

Okay, so either you already have a garden from the previous season, or you are starting from scratch. No worries to those starting out, just check out this post where I will walk you through the process of starting a vegetable garden from scratch! It is so exciting to grow your own food! Keep reading, you will catch on quick.

Those who are starting with a garden from the previous season, grow on! I will share with you how! You can also join us for our upcoming webinar, Fall Gardening 101!

Preparing To Start a Garden Bed

You probably still have some crops hanging out, so now is the time to clean things up. You can either clear out all the plants and throw them on your compost pile, or chop and drop them as mulch for your new beds, depending on whether you are direct seeding small seeds, or transplanting. I just chop and drop and add another layer of compost, amendments, and mulch for beds I am transplanting into. Beds that I will be seeding smaller seeds that will form a living mulch, such as baby lettuce, I chop the plants at the bases, throw the previous crop in the pathway or compost pile, work in some more compost and amendments, and then smooth the top for seeding. Then I re-mulch my pathways to cover the old crops and make everything neat again (this is a benefit of berm and swale/raised beds – composting right beside the beds).

Planting Time

If you are starting seeds to transplant, such as broccoli, cabbage, collards, etc, you need to think ahead a little bit to get a jump on their growth before going into the ground. Some things like spinach won’t germinate very well in the heat, so soaking the seeds and sprouting them in the refrigerator is a good way to hack that. I like to soak a lot of my seeds in a liquid kelp solution before planting. It is a good way to speed up germination so the plants can outcompete the weeds with a head start. When shopping for seeds, select the earliest maturing varieties available.

Here is what I like to start from seed to transplant:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards (you can direct seed as well)
  • Kale (you can direct seed as well)
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks (plan ahead – long season)

Here is what I like to direct seed in the ground:

  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce (you can transplant as well)
  • Mustard
  • Radish
  • Rutabagas
  • Swiss chard
  • Spinach
  • Turnips (try salad turnips – Hakurei)

If you get caught in a pinch for time, or have an extremely short window of time, arugula, mustard, spinach, turnips, and crispy red radishes are ready to pick in little more than a month (try it out in September)! Asian greens, such as tatsoi and mizuna, can begin to be eaten three weeks after sowing.

Spinach and kale – the hardiest fall vegetables – can even grow well into early winter. To keep spinach going, thin crowded spinach to give the plants plenty of room, and stop picking leaves when freezing weather arrives. When protected by a blanket of snow or a low tunnel, spinach can survive winter and produce a flush of sweet leaves first thing in spring. I did this in Iowa under an unheated high tunnel and it was some of the best spinach ever!

Check out your seed packet and count backwards from your first average frost to know when to plant.

How To Care For Your Fall Garden

It’s important to keep your vegetable plants well watered during the hot month of August into September. Even as the season cools down, moisture is critical to get significant growth and keep the garden healthy. Use your fingers to stick in the soil, if it feels moist, you are good, it should never feel dry.

Use liquid kelp for stress and frost protection. One teaspoon liquid kelp/seaweed per gallon of water applied as a foliar spray before a frost works wonders for plant resiliency!

Apply compost tea and nutritional foliar sprays to boost plant growth and keep them healthy every two weeks or more often if plants get stressed.

Check out the Ecological Garden Primer Recipes for these recipes and more ways to boost your garden’s health! We also have a step-by-step course called, the Nourishing Backyard Garden Formula, to take you all the way through from building the garden to harvesting your bounty that is a great way to ensure your success in the garden – beginners and seasoned gardeners alike!

But What About The Winter

I LOVE season extension! You basically get a whole other season of produce without having to plant it all again! Usually I have things from the Fall grow all the way through until it gets too hot for them and they go to seed.

On sensitive crops, or if your zone is quite cold, try some DIY PVC pipe low tunnels.

Building a Low Tunnel

This method uses 7 foot 3 inches lengths of PVC pipe as “hoops” over the beds (you can change the length to fit your height needs). Just make sure your PVC pipe fits over the rebar you choose and can bend enough to form an arch.

  1. Prepare the bed by aerating and loosening the soil with a broad fork. Plant the bed before constructing the hoops. Plants that will grow taller, like swiss chard or fava beans, are planted toward the center of the tunnel, whereas shorter plants like lettuces are seeded near the border.
  2. Using a sledge hammer, drive a 18 inch piece of rebar into the ground at the corner of the bed until 6-8 inches are sticking out. 
  3. Pound in another piece of rebar at the opposite side of the bed.
  4. Insert one end of the PVC pipe over the rebar.
  5. Insert the other end of the PVC pipe over the opposite rebar, creating a hoop over the bed. Avoid stepping on the prepared beds.
  6. Repeat the process of constructing hoops every 3 – 5 feet down the length of the bed.
  7. Unroll the low tunnel cover of your choice along the length of the bed. Most row covers can be bought in 10-foot widths, which is what you want in this application. Agribon-19 row covers will provide frost protection down to 28 degrees F, and are great for late fall/early winter protection as they are water and air-permeable. When temperatures start dropping significantly, add an additional layer.
  8. Pull the cover over the bed. At the longest ends of the bed, gather the cover and tuck it in, laying a large rock or board over it to hold it down. Repeat on the other end of the bed, pulling the cover taut.
  9. If you are using a lightweight Agribon cover, you need only secure the edges of the cover with whatever weights you have available. Extra bricks, aluminum fencing, 2x4s, plastic sandbags, etc.
  10. You can use large binder clips to secure the frost cover to the PVC pipe hoop.

On days warmer than 40° F , uncover your low tunnels to keep them from making the plants too tender, and if using plastic, this is a MUST.

When I want to harvest or water, I uncover the beds, tend to them, and then pull the frost cover back over, secure it to the PVC arches with the binder clips, and tuck and weigh down the edges until next time! The covers cut down the need to water in the winter, but it is always good to do the finger test. Make sure it feels moist, because life needs water to live and dry soil will short circuit your whole system.

So get your flannel shirt ready and enjoy the crisp fall air as you start your garden, grow good food, and nourish yourself!