There are so many reasons to start a fall garden ! Enjoying fresh produce is always a benefit. The milder weather can mean a world of difference in the quality and productive time you spend tending the garden.
The different vegetables that can be grown this time of year will add a much needed change to dishes to bring to your table and share with friends. It seems everything about it is easier! From watering requirements to the weed pulling, it all goes easier with the cooler weather.
If you’re looking for a fall harvest of Pumpkins, it’s way too late to start them. Pumpkins should be in the ground around the beginning of July. But all is not lost ! There are many vegetables you can plant during the summer that will allow you to reap a Fall harvest.
The best time to plant these Vegetables is in August or September from seed. If you buy seedlings you can wait a little later because they already have a few weeks of growth, so you’ll be that far ahead of the game.
Earlier Spring crops have already played out or been beaten to death by the extreme heat. Planting fall crops will allow you to continue your fresh vegetable harvesting well into the end of the season up through early frost for certain vegetables.
Most Fall vegetables like Collard greens, Broccoli, Cauliflower and carrots produce their best flavor when exposed to cooler temperatures and even a light frost will be beneficial. In Alabama, the early Spring temperatures will heat up too quick sometimes and cause greens like lettuce or spinach to bolt and make them taste bitter. I always wait till Fall to plant my leafy crops.
It is so hard to determine our “killing frost” date down here. You will need to get a general frost date for your specific location and count backwards from the date of maturity listed on the seed packet or plant container to make sure they have time to mature.
Getting Your Garden Ready
This year, like many other years, I have totally let my garden go wild by the end of August and I always swear I’ll never do it again.
Before you prepare your soil for the Fall garden, you will probably need to do some clean up of leftover vegetables from the Spring. Pull out any old plants and weeds.
Sometimes I have trouble deciding whether or not to pull up an old plant because it may have a few remnants growing, but over the years I’ve learned how to tell if they’ve pretty much played out.
Make sure to pick up any old veggies lying around because as they rot, they will attract pests and disease for your new plants!
Planting Your Vegetables
Although I have successfully done so indoors , I have never planted broccoli , collards, or lettuce from seed directly in the ground. It’s so disheartening when you get some little plants going and a rain comes through and destroys weeks of your careful planning .
If you decide to sow them in your garden directly, make sure to keep the soil moist constantly. The hot Alabama sun can dry your dirt out and cause a crust to form over the seeds. This will interfere with germination. After they germinate, it’s important to keep them watered frequently but lightly, to keep them growing actively.
Most people will get pre-started seedlings for a more definite success rate. I always find that growing from seeds is more satisfying and great for your children to learn how things grow.
Fall is the time of year when you get that great sought after combo of “moist and well draining” that you always strive to get in the earlier Summer. Remember that seedlings, transplants and germinating seeds can take frequent light watering daily.
There’s not a lot of watering going on later, and you can usually get away with watering once a week (or less depending on the weather) once the vegetables are established. The standard I always use is : stick your finger in the dirt ( if its not too hard) and if it’s dry to about a knuckle deep, I will water it .
Another thing to consider is, if you heavily fertilized in Spring, you may not need to fertilize again. If you decide to fertilize make sure to turn it into your soil thoroughly along with any amendments you decide to incorporate.
If you add fertilizer, wait a few days for it to kind of dissolve into the soil. Otherwise the nitrogen content in the fertilizer could burn the plants and kill them before they even get started.
Once started though and more mature, many fall vegetables are leafy and will benefit from a good side dressing of 10-10-10 about 3 weeks in, just like plants in the Spring.
Another benefit of a fall garden is the lack of certain pests. You’ll still deal with Cabbage Loopers, and all other kinds of caterpillars but for the main part. Cabbage loopers can be thwarted with Thuricide , which is a liquid formulation of bacteria, Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt), which is specific to leaf eating caterpillars.
Let me tell you, keep this applied. It seems to wash off after a rain, so frequent applications are necessary. A good hungry Hornworm can devour an entire plant in one night. I’ve seen it many times !
Good to know Harvesting Tips!
Fall vegetables are some of the easiest to grow. I will leave you now with a couple of helpful tips for two of my favorites:
When you harvest COLLARDS, cut the leaves off individually starting from the bottom. Most people will cut off the entire plant. This limits you to a small harvest. Try clipping the oldest leaves at the bottom. The plant will continue to grow and get taller producing more leaves up top as it grows. Collards will grow into next Spring in this manner. Planting like four plants will give you a great harvest !
With BROCOLLI: Cut off the main head but leave the plant intact. Tiny florets will continue to grow for weeks after the initial harvest. Also if you are a leafy greens fan like me, try harvesting the leaves of the broccoli plant. Cook them just like collards. They are delicious!