Believe it or not, late July and early August is the time to start planning and taking action for fall gardening. While you may be in the harvesting and preserving mode, you can keep on gardening and add to your food supply with new crops of several vegetables. You don’t have to limit yourself to a spring crop of lettuce or carrots.
Not only does gardening provide you with food for survival, it teaches you valuable lessons that help develop a survival attitude. A gardener should always be analyzing, evaluating and looking ahead. As a gardener, you do this all the time without giving it a second thought.
For example, how are those beans doing in that location? Why are the tomato leaves turning yellow? What are organic solutions for insect problems? And so on. You’re asking questions, seeking answers, and applying those answers.
How does this apply to fall gardening? The first step to take is to evaluate how the season has gone for you. What succeeded? What has failed? How can you make better use of available space? Should you try different varieties? What can you do differently next season or for the remainder of this season?
Because climate is so diverse throughout the country, I can only give general tips and offer more questions than answers here. Check with your local university extension service for growing guides for your area.
The experts in your local area know about the frost dates and weather patterns you’ll experience. They can make recommendations as to the best vegetable varieties for you. They will also be familiar with what problems you might anticipate from insects and diseases. Realize their solutions to these problems conform to conventional gardening methods, and you may need to look elsewhere for organic or natural solutions.
The first fall frost date is very important to know. For example, if you want to plant something that takes 55-60 days to grow, do you have 55-60 days left before a killing frost? Can you give the plants protection to get them past that first frost? Have mulch, plastic or floating row cover on hand. Do you have a cold frame or greenhouse? If you’re container gardening, you have the advantage of being able to bring containers into a garage or greenhouse if frost threatens.
Try growing plants that like colder weather, such as kale, cauliflower or broccoli. Try a crop of lettuce, especially if hot weather in spring causes it to bolt too soon. Be sure to keep seeds and young plants well watered and fertilized, just as you would for a spring planting. Use mulch to keep soil cooler and more moist if it’s too hot when you plant.
Whether you plant transplants or seedlings depends on how much cold the crop can tolerate and the time left before frost. Vegetables that tolerate frost include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collards, garlic, kale, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, spinach and turnips. Vegetables that don’t tolerate frost include beans, cantaloupes, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, okra, peas, peppers, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes and watermelons.
One important fall gardening task sounds merciless, but necessary. Pull up old plants that are no longer producing well, such as tomato plants that have passed their prime or are diseased. Avoid putting diseased and insect ridden plants in your compost. Ask yourself what you can put in the space left behind by the uprooted plants. Maybe you want to start adding soil amendments like organic matter there and not bother with planting anything in that spot.
Since pumpkins and several squashes aren’t ready to harvest until fall, make sure you keep everything that’s still in your garden well watered. Of course, anything you plant, whether transplants or seeds, needs watering as well. Don’t count on the weatherman’s predictions for rain.
When weather gets colder, listen for frost and freeze advisories and warnings. Before a hard freeze, root crops such as carrots and radishes should be harvested or mulched. Harvesting of mulched root crops can often be extended well into the winter. If your winter is mild, you may be able to continue harvesting until spring.
Plan ahead. Consider what plants will make it through winter where you live. For example, I plant yellow potato multiplier onions in early September, which gives them a chance to become well established so they’ll get through winter and produce next season. If you enjoy perennials, are there shrubs or bulbs you can plant before long? What can you buy now for planting next spring?
Fall doesn’t have to mean the end of your survival gardening efforts. It simply means that as the seasons change, so does what and how you grow.