A fall garden actually means you have to put your fall plants into the garden in the summer. Depending on where you live you may be able to harvest winter vegetables but you want to plant your fall garden around 50 to 60 days before the first frost of the fall. In my Georgia garden that means planting about mid to late August because we usually start getting frost mid to late October, planting vegetables in the garden in some cases and planting seeds in the ground with some varieties. Broccoli, for instance, is a crop that takes 60 to 80 days to mature from plants set out in the garden so if I plant Broccoli on the 15th of August we would expect to harvest by mid-October for a 60-day variety.
I have more detailed information about organic gardening in a Book I wrote called Seven Steps To An Organic Garden
The best is advice you can get is from someone who is gardening in your area and has some experience with the best planting dates for your area. The State agricultural universities have a local extension agricultural agent that can help you. Your local garden clubs can be a good resource or ask a farmer at your local farmers market. The plants we are talking about in this article are tolerant to cooler, milder weather but might not take a hard frost or freezing temperatures for an extended time. So if that comes early in the fall where you garden then you will need to plant earlier in the summer and adjust accordingly. If you live in a more tropical climate you may be able to grow these plants in your winter months.
Read the seed packets and seed catalogs to get cultural information about the vegetables you want to grow. Look online and do your research so you will know when to plant and what insects or diseases to be on the lookout for. Knowing how long it will take to grow your crop to harvest stage is very important. You will see how long it take to harvest expressed as DTM or Days to maturity. Sometimes this is from the date you sow the seed directly in the garden and sometimes it is from the day you transplant the seedling into the garden. Read your seed catalogs or look it up online to find out this information. I use Johnny’s seed co. and their catalog has most of the information you need on days to maturity. To find the average first frost dates, soil temperatures and other helpful weather information I use the University Of Georgia Weather network In other states, I am sure there is something similar through your agricultural university.
Most of the fall vegetable plants I grow (not all) are brassicas, sometimes call cole plants and are in the mustard family. They will tolerate some light frost and actually taste better when they mature in cooler months of the year. They are very nutritious and contain some of the best health benefits of any vegetables. They are known to taste a little bitter which is the sulfur content and is actually what makes them good for us. My wife Judy has several recipes on this blog so find one you like and eat more brassicas and leafy greens.
Each of these fall vegetables that I list will have different days to maturity depending on what particular variety you choose. For instance, a variety of cabbage I grow is called Farao and it matures in 65 days from transplanting into the garden. Another variety of cabbage that I don’t grow is called Deadon that is 105 days to maturity. Remember these days to maturity are only a guide to go by and are based on ideal growing conditions. Because Deadon cabbage would either have to be planted earlier in the summer (problems with heat for me) or it may not fully mature at all if we have a harsh winter in my area I chose to plant the earlier maturing varieties. You may have different growing conditions from me in zone 8 and your choices may be different so that is why it is important to talk to gardeners and farmers in your area.
This is my list of plants that I plant into the garden as starter plants call transplants. This is not the only way to grow these plants. You can direct sow them into the garden but this is the method that I use. If you are starting this list from seeds in pots yourself you will need to start your seed 6 to 8 weeks earlier before you set them out in the garden or buy your plants ready to set out in mid to late August for zone 8.
Broccoli (Grown for the center crown that is actually the flower bud but the leaves are also edible)
Brussel Sprouts (one of the slowest of the fall vegetables to mature and may take 100 days or more but the leaves are very good to eat)
Cauliflower (are more sensitive to the frost than Broccoli)
Cabbage (many varieties to choose from including red cabbage and some varieties that are best for sauerkraut)
Kale (Or it can be sown directly from seed in the garden. Pick individual lower leaves and Kale will last into the winter)
Kohlrabi (You can eat the bulbous stem as well as the leaves.)
Collard (Or it can be sown directly from seed in the garden. Pick individual lower leaves and collards will last into the winter
Swiss Chard (Chard is less cold hardy than others on this list and will not last into the winter )
Chinese Cabbage (grows fast but is more susceptible to insect damage)
Lettuce (Or it can be sown directly from seed in the garden)
*Your soil needs to be prepared ahead of planting day. That means removing weeds, tilling if necessary, adjusting the soil PH and adding amendments like compost and fertilizer.
*Allways pre-water your plants well before bringing them out to the garden. You can water them with a light dose of organic liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion.
*Determine how far you want to plant your plants apart from each other and what pattern Rows or Squares). Most plants can be planted about 12 inches from center to center but this will vary by variety so refer to seed catalogs for a guide. Another good resource is the free Square Foot Garden Planner. If you have a small space and want to plant it intensively this online planner will show you how many plants you need per square foot and tips and designs are provided for building and planting a simple and easy garden plan.
*Dig a hole to open up a spot to plant according to the size plant you have.
*Plant at the same depth or slightly deeper than what the plant was growing in the pot and firm the soil around the plant.
*Give your newly planted plant some water to settle the soil around it and it should be off to a good start.
You can plant some of these fall Plants from transplants. Because some of them are producing an edible root that might be stunted from transplanting them from a pot and are often planted close together (12 or more per square foot) I find that they are best planted directly into the garden as seed. Here is a link to a video on how to sow seed in a Square Foot garden.
Turnips for greens and turnip roots
Mustard greens (We plant Florida broadleaf mild mustard but there are other verities that have more of a spicy kick)
Rutabaga (sow 6 to 8 seeds per foot and thin to 6 inches apart for larger rutabagas.)
Carrots (Plant carrots in late August through October and you can have carrots all winter. In our zone 8, we cover them with row cover during the winter and they will store right in the garden all during the winter. You can dig them up as you need them. The cold weather will make the carrots taste better in the winter than the ones you grow in warmer weather.)
Beets (Can be transplanted as plants if they are not left in the pot too long but do very well seeded directly into the garden)
Radish (Sow multiple times to have a continuous supply in the fall. that mature quick from seed)
Spinach ( I wait until the soil temperature is around 70 degrees F in September to sow spinach seed because spinach will not germinate if the soil is too warm. Spinach is very hardy and will survive temperatures down to 2o degrees F, so it is possible to harvest it several times over the winter with just a little protection)
Onions Bunching (certain varieties grow quickly and can be harvested early for pencil size green onions often called bunching onions because they are sold in a bunch)
Onion Bulbs (these onions can be planted from seed or plants to overwinter in zone 8 and harvested as onion bulbs the next spring)
Asian greens (This is a general classification of leafy plants that includes but is not limited to Tatsoi, Choi Sum, Mizuna, Red and green Pac Choi,)
Leeks (A large upright non-bulbing type of onion)
Parsnips ( similar requirements as carrots )
Lettuce ( Can be grown as leaf lettuce where you can cut it and it grows back call cut and come again or grown as heads where you harvest once as a whole head)
Peas (sugar snap and snow peas)
Your Code for Thursday evening is –Broccoli
If there is something nice to look at or good to eat you can be sure that there is a critter out there that wants to eat it. The fall and winter garden have their share of bugs as well but I would say less than in the summer. Below are a few of the common ones:
The most common pest in a fall garden is the caterpillar sometimes in the form of armyworms or cabbage looper. Caterpillers love to eat members of the brassica family, so more than likely you will be visited by this pest and they can do a lot of damage before you know it. Don’t ignore your fall plants or they will be eaten alive literally. Holes in the leaves, sometimes large holes will be a sign of the caterpillar along with his black droppings. They have chewing mouthparts.
This is a pest that you will find on the undersides of leaves that suck the juices from your plants. They are also called plant lice and can increase in numbers quickly. You will often find ants present when you see Aphids because the ants move them around from plant to plant in order to eat the sugary substance they secrete. Sometimes this can be a sign that you have over fertilized your plants with too much nitrogen as they are attracted to excess sugars in the leaf. These pests will not leave holes in the plant as they have pricing sucking mouthparts and suck the juice from the plant leaving the plant pale green or yellow and sometimes puckered up or rolled up leaves.
These tiny beetles have a hard black shell and hop around like fleas. They will eat tiny holes in the leaves and can completely consume small plants when their numbers are high enough.
These are tiny white flying insects that can multiply quickly in warm weather. They have pricing sucking mouthparts and can damage plants much the same way aphids can.
Our four-legged pests can do the most damage of all and can eat more in a single night than any insect in the same amount of time. Deer will pull small plants up by the roots and bite others off at the top. They often leave tracks that are easy to recognize. Rabbits have sharp teeth and will make clean cuts as they eat the leaves.
The first level of defense is to have a healthy plant planted in the right place at the right time. If your plants are healthy you will not have as many insects and disease problems.
The second level of defense is to invite more bugs into your garden. That’s right! There are a lot of beneficial insects that are attracted to the pollen and nectar of plants but don’t eat the plant itself. These beneficial bugs also will eat a lot of the plant-eating bugs, so plant flowers in your vegetable garden that will attract more of the good bugs to help keep things in balance.
Another part of these second level of defense is to keep out the bad bugs by covering them with insect netting called lightweight floating row cover. Most of the fall vegetable plants don’t need pollination because what they are producing is a stem or root or leaf and not a fruit like a squash that needs pollination. Keeping out the bees that pollinate will not hurt the cabbage because we are only growing the cabbage leaves. This is called exclusion and it works for deer and rabbit as well. A good fence is also useful in keeping out the four-legged critters.
The third level of defense is to use organic sprays and dust to control the insects that want to eat our plants.
When we use organic controls we need to use them as a last resort because we can sometimes kill more good bugs than bad and upset the balance between the two. That said it is useful to keep the plants we are growing from becoming completely eaten up.
BT is very effective in controlling Catapillers on vegetable crops which stands for Bacillus thuringiensis is a biological control that only affects caterpillars and is one of the safest organic remedies to use. You can find it locally at your garden shop and it may be sold as a worm killer but look to see that the active ingredient is BT. Click Here to buy it from Amazon.
Insecticide Soap is effective in controlling soft-bodied insects like aphids and whiteflies. It’s soap without detergent and is very safe to use. it works by breaking down the outer layer of the insect and smothering them. You can also add a drop or two to other sprays so that they stick better. Click here to buy it on Amazon.
Pyrethrum is an organic spray that comes from chrysanthemum flowers and very effective but can kill many beneficial insects as well. Only use it when nothing else will work. I sometimes use it on Squash bugs, Flea beetles and other hard to control insects. Pyrethrum is also sold in a mix with neem oil called End All
If you would like more information on organic gardening I have written a book Seven steps to An Organic Garden Click here to buy it on Amazon