Planting Garden Vegetables in the Fall and Winter
Gardeners with a little ingenuity can harvest fresh produce well into the fall and winter months. By planting in the fall, the soil temperatures are still warm from a long summer. The warmer soil temperature encourages root growth.
When exactly is fall? The fall season officially begins with the equinox in late September. However, fall weather varies considerably from one part of the country to the next.
The best period for fall planting is around six weeks before the first hard frost in your area. You can get an idea of the average first frost date near your area from here: https://www.almanac.com/gardening/frostdates. Note that the roots need to have time to become established before winter sets in.
Here are a number of techniques to grow more vegetables and herbs further into the fall and winter than you may have thought possible.
What Vegetables to Plant
Late summer is the ideal time to plant cold-tolerant vegetables that will flourish in the fall and endure cold weather.
Examples of hardy vegetables for fall gardening include: kale, spinach, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, turnips, cabbages, oriental greens, rutabagas, and some varieties of lettuce.
Add Plant Protection
Fall often delivers brief cold spells with a few frost-filled mornings, sandwiched between weeks of milder, frost-free conditions.
The problem is that a single touch of frost can wipe out every tender annual growing in the garden.
A little protection will enable frost-sensitive vegetables and herbs to survive a cold snap, and reward you with an opportunity to enjoy extended harvests.
The transparent, fleecy, floating row covers used to shield plants from harmful insects can prevent frost damage.
Row covers trap the warmth that radiates up from the earth much like the way that a cloud cover holds temperatures and prevents frost from forming. Row covers offer a few degrees of protection, keeping tender annuals safe from light frost. Use the thicker grade covers for maximum benefit.
Once freezing conditions arrive, even cold hardy crops will appreciate some protection if they remain in the garden.
Additional Plant Protection Ideas
Cardboard boxes and fruit baskets can provide shelter to individual plants, while old sheets, blankets, and heavy plastic tarps will protect entire rows or beds of plants.
Apply the coverings in the evening when freezes are forecast and remove them the following morning after the sun warms the air.
Another effective solution is to use a commercial variety of cloche, or to set up a portable cold frame over the garden bed. Cloches include the heavy glass, bell shaped jars, or variously styled and shaped rigid plastic devices.
One style of cold frame consists of a tubular frame covered by a woven poly material with flaps for venting. You can also obtain sturdier cold frames made with aluminum framing and twin wall polycarbonate panels that lift up for venting.
Regardless of the type of protection used to cover your plants you must remove it or provide venting during the day as temperatures rise.
You can also combine a few discarded window sashes and bales of straw to create a simple makeshift cold frames. Just arrange the straw bales into a rectangular shape around a garden bed and lay the windows across the top to form an enclosed and insulated growing area. This setup will work great to keep a bed of leafy greens growing further into the winter.
Water as a Plant Protector
Water can protect and insulate plants from the cold. Commercial orchards actually spray water and mist onto their trees to prevent frost damage.
You can employ plastic gallon jugs filled with water to provide protection. Place the containers around plants, under floating row covers or tarps, and inside of your cold frames.
The water will absorb and store heat during the day and release it at night to provide warmth for your plants.
You’ll get the best results by painting the jugs black so that they’ll absorb more energy from the sun during the day. Even if the water in the container freezes, it will continue to release a significant amount of heat energy into the surrounding area.
Hardiest Vegetable to Consider Planting
Certain vegetables will survive on their own in the garden through bitterly cold conditions. Leeks, kale, and collards frequently withstand harsh winters without any protection.
Fall planted garlic and shallots will develop strong root systems in the fall, spend the winter underground. They will then spring up at the earliest signs of the arrival of spring.
Many root crops including beets, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips can be left in the garden protected with a thick layer of shredded leaves or straw. You can then continue harvesting as needed, provided that the ground doesn’t freeze and prevent digging.
Complete your harvesting before spring arrives, since their quality will degrade once the roots resume growing and switch into seed production mode.
Keep these tips in mind when you try your hand at planting and harvesting fresh produce well into the fall and winter months.
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