My vegetable garden is still in summer mode, but before you know it, Jack Frost will be here and it’ll be time to start thinking about vegetable gardening for fall. Planning and protecting fall crops isn’t difficult, but it can take some time and materials. As I write in my book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, you can save time and money, and get a jumpstart on the autumn garden by following these simple tips in September:
Vegetable gardening for fall:
1 – Gather your materials:
As summer shifts to fall, my thoughts turn to straw bales. Why? Because I use these simple materials to insulate my root crops for winter harvesting. Once the hard frosts threaten in late autumn, I add a 1 to 1 1/2 foot deep layer of shredded leaves or straw to my carrot, parsnip, and celeriac beds. This is topped with an old piece of row cover to hold the materials in place and we harvest all winter long. In September and October, straw bales are everywhere. Take advantage and pick up a few at your local garden centre, or place an order for delivery (bulk pricing!).
Budget savvy gardeners may want to think about fall leaves. If you don’t have a property that gives you plenty of leaves, ask your family and friends if you can have their bagged autumn leaves. Asking now will make sure you have access to all those lovely leaves before they’re dumped on the curb for pick up.
Related Post: A simple winter mulch
2 – Assess your structures:
The majority of my late fall vegetable garden is protected with cold frames and mini hoop tunnels. Cold frames can be temporary, in the case of straw bale cold frames, or permanent structures. (Mine are 3 by 6 foot hemlock boxes topped with Lexan polycarbonate).
Don’t wait until the cold weather arrives and you’re in a rush to get organized! Early autumn is the best time to build new frames and assess existing ones (tighten any loose screws, clean dust and dirt from the tops). As well, you’ll want to make sure that you have all the materials you need to build mini hoop tunnels (I use 1/2 inch diameter PVC conduit for my hoops). To save time, I erect the skeleton of my tunnels over the garden beds in early Septemeber, so that they’re ready to go when the mercury dips.
3 – Inspect your covers:
Ideally, I try to clean the fabric row covers and plastic sheets that top my fleece tunnels in spring, right after they’re removed. But (ahem) sometimes, I get lazy or busy and it just doesn’t get done. Dirty fabrics and plastics don’t transmit optimum light, look dirty in the garden and deteriorate quicker, so if you didn’t clean them before you stored them, pull them out on a nice sunny day to assess their condition. I’ve been known to put my row cover fabrics in the washing machine on the delicate cycle, but you can also handwash them in a big rubbermaid tub or container. Then, hang them to dry.
Plastic sheets, on the other hand, should be laid out on a lawn (not a driveway as they may tear) and washed with a mop. I use a gentle dish detergent and water to clean the covers. Once the dirt is removed, leave them to dry in the sun. Once clean and dry, the fabrics and plastics should be folded and stored until you’re ready for them.
4- Clean up:
At this point in the season, most of my summer crops are still going strong, but some are definitely ready to be pulled out (I’m looking at you, broccoli!) It was good while it lasted, but when production slows to a crawl, it’s time to pop out those plants, clean up the bed, and amend with more aged manure or compost to get ready for the next round of planting.
Related Post: The January harvest
5 – Keep planting:
Now that you have some free garden space (see tip #4), get sowing! There is still time to plant quick growing greens like arugula, spinach, lettuce, baby kale, mizuna, mustard, and tatsoi for fall harvesting. Even fast maturing roots crops like baby beets, Japanese turnips, and radishes can be sown now. Plant in both garden beds and cold frames.
BONUS TIP – A sneaky way to create an ‘instant’ fall garden is to dig up any volunteer kales (or lettuce, endive, tatsoi, mache, etc) that self-sowed in your garden and move them to beds and cold frames.
How are you vegetable gardening for fall?
Mike Davis says
Thanks for the inspiration! I get SO lazy this time of year and then regret it later.
Brent Eamer says
I have my fall kale growing nicely. My hoops are in place. I am going to dig up my parsley and bring some indoors. The greenhouse will stretch my growing season into almost late December. Leaves are readily available for me. Nice large Red Oak leaves will go over my carrots.
I’m doing winter gardening for the first time this year. Excited to see how it goes. Hubby built my tunnels, row cover has arrived, and the seedlings are all up and going!
jan WIlcox says
Thanks for info – I just discovered you by way of Margaret Roach. One request: Can you please put dates at the top of your blog/ article enteries? For example – this one called 5 things to do now. When is NOW? if no date no way to know except by seeing if there are comments and hoping those were made at the same time. Thanks
Niki Jabbour says
Hi Jan – thanks for connecting! And good tip.. when I wrote that post, we did use dates.. I will change the title so that it makes more sense.. much appreciated!! – Niki
Thanks for these tips! I haven’t done much gardening during the winter months but I’m looking forward to getting started. As far as the bales are concerned DEFINITELY buy bulk! You save so much in the long run.