I may not be entirely ready for the Winnie-the-Pooh days of fall, but I am ready to start planting my fall gardens. As I have probably mentioned several (hundred) times before, the fall garden is in some ways a well-kept secret as far as easy and rewarding gardening is concerned.
While many people are “putting their gardens to bed” in September, some of us are starting all over again with those crops that love a little cold bite to the air. The fall (and winter) garden may just be my favorite garden of all. And for good reason — there are some definite perks such as less pests hanging about the place, less watering going on, and it turns out that there are very few weeds that dig the lower temperatures — surprise!
You may be thinking that there aren’t very many fabulous, cool-weather veggies to grow anyway, so why put out the effort at all? All I can say is “are you sure you saw the list?” Carrots, endive, cauliflower, kohlrabi, leeks, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, chard, peas, beets, radicchio, endive, radish, turnips, cilantro, kale, Brussels sprouts, rhubarb, and asparagus are all on there, plus this is the time to get your garlic and onions in, too!
Cool-season crops can be grown both in the fall or the early spring. They like temperatures that are around 40 to 60 degrees. You can experiment to see which season works best for the vegetables in your area. For instance, when I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I found that many times our spring warmed up too fast for plants like lettuce, cilantro, and broccoli.
It was frustrating to get the plants almost to maturity only to have them bolt (flower and go to seed) overnight. Once I changed my strategy and planted the cool-weather vegetables in the fall, I had an incredible harvest.
Once you’ve discovered the fall garden — with the help of hoop houses, cold frames, and mulch — there’s nothing to stop you from winter gardening. And if you’re looking for an excuse not to start a winter garden, may I introduce you to Niki Jabbour, author of Year-Round Vegetable Gardening (Storey, 2011) — she’ll set you straight.
Want a little more on Cool-Season Vegetables? Check out Cool-Weather Lettuce for Fall and Winter Gardens, A Second Round of Broccoli for Fall, Peas:The Cool-Weather Legume, Growing Spinach in the Home Garden, and Kale: The Aristocrat of Vegetables.