Fall Through Winter Gardens

Posted: August 6, 2012

After battling weeds and garden pests all summer, a fall-winter garden can be a delightful reprieve from those garden stressors, and fill your veggie basket or crock pot full of delicious produce.  The key to a successful fall and winter garden is planning, so though you may be feeling overwhelmed (and delighted!) with the current avalanche of tomatoes and peppers, now is the time to plan and plant. With just a little bit of forethought you can be harvesting fresh vegetables in the snow.

In fall and winter, gardeners should be aware of two factors that will affect their harvest success: temperature and day length. As the days get shorter, plants slow their growth until finally going dormant in the deep winter months of December and January. Greens can still be harvested but they won’t rebound until the days get long again. While outdoor gardeners can’t control the day length, they can plant more plants then usual and expect longer maturity times to account for the slow growth.

chard with frost

via organicdirect.co.nz

Changes in temperature have a much more dramatic effect on gardens. Some plants tolerate a light frost and actually taste sweeter after the cold like carrots and kale. Others, like lettuce, are more easily damaged so keep an eye on the weather, particularly nighttime lows. Early cold snaps can kill young starts, so be prepared to protect vulnerable plants with row covers if the night temperature dips below freezing before your vegetables are fully mature.

The trick to planning a fall-winter garden is making sure the plants are fully mature before the days get too short and the nights too cold. A good rule of thumb is to find your first frost date and then count backwards the days until maturity information on your seed packet.  Frost dates can vary up to a month in WNC so check with the NC Cooperative Extension Agency for the date specific to your micro-climate.

For example, radishes are an excellent fall-winter garden choice because they mature quickly. Our French Breakfast Radish reaches maturity in 24 days, so if you were planting them in the Asheville area you would look at the frost date Oct 23rd on a calendar and count back 24 days – giving you the window of now until September 29th to sow radish seeds in your garden.

But don’t wait until September to start planting radishes! To extend your harvest, use succession planting. For lettuces and root crops like carrots, beets or radishes, direct seed a few feet every couple of weeks and you’ll ensure a bounty of vegetables throughout the fall and early winter.

Would you like to try something new this fall?  Many folks think of peas as an early spring variety, but shelling, snap, or snow peas like Mammoth Melting or Sugar Snap do quite well direct seeded in a fall garden – don’t forget to add a trellis as these varieties love to climb. Plant onion seed soon for spring harvest (intermediate or short day onions work best for the Asheville region, try our Red Torpedo onion) and seed garlic in late fall for early summer harvest.

If you haven’t already started some of the slower maturing varieties like broccoli, cauliflower or brussels sprouts, purchase these as starts. Sow True Seed will be offering a selection of fall and winter starts in our retail store beginning in late August.

Even if you don’t plant a fall and winter garden, consider seeding a fall cover crop, like our Fall Cover Mix, into your unused space. Cover crops are a great way to enrich tired soils by incorporating vital organic matter and adding nitrogen, while also protecting bare ground from erosion, suppressing weeds, and improving the overall structure and water storage capacity of your soil.

With proper planning and a just a little bit of maintenance, fall and winter gardens can provide the home gardener with a bounty fresh vegetables throughout the cold season without the same headaches (read: weeds and garden pests) that we experience in the warmer weather. Happy growing!

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