When the coronavirus pandemic sent most people in the United States inside to quarantine, everyone was itching for new hobbies. A few weeks in, I realized the only hobbies I seemingly had before were going out to eat and hanging out with friends.
In light of this and like many others, I decided to make quarantine time my new hobby time. I remember thinking how lovely this was all happening at the beginning of spring. At times it felt like the world was ending, but then I would look outside and see the green leaves returning to the trees and the flower buds start to poke their way through. Two things that I felt were missing from my personal life --growth and new life-- were right before me.
Again, like many others, my desire to make a garden became my new hobby. In a time of stuckness, I would make vegetables and herbs and flowers flourish. The work and patience of caring for a garden were kindly rewarded with delicious meals shared with my family.
Now that we are transitioning into colder months and coronavirus cases are still on the rise, I sense this same kind of stuckness approaching.
It won’t be long until there’s snow on the ground and the trees become bare. But that doesn’t mean that the gardening and the growth and the new life has to come to a halt. With the proper dedication and tools, a garden can survive through the fall season and well into winter. Here are some of the most important things to consider for your at-home fall garden.
Timing is everything for your fall garden. Growth during these colder months tends to be slower and you need to be prepared for that extra time it will take your vegetables to grow. Some plants take longer than others, but by timing them out you can create a decent yield and harvest. The Farmer’s Almanac is a great resource to reference for the proper timing of second-season crops. It is paramount to know the first expected frost date for your area. Some plants can handle a little frost and some cannot. It is important to know which is which and to plan accordingly. This resource on the Farmer’s Almanac allows you to search for your area’s expected frost date. Using this and the planting diagram is a great place to start when timing out your fall garden.
Another thing to keep in mind when planning your planting is that most of your plants will be from seed and will need more time to properly grow. Look at the estimated growing period on the seed package and add two weeks for your plan. This will provide you with a more realistic plan for your fall garden.
Once you have an outlined plan, begin by removing plants from your current garden that are not performing well such as tomatoes and peppers. Clean out the space of any weeds and replenish with rich soil.
There are many benefits to using a raised bed garden and they are easy to make at home. It is easy to control in order to support a healthy garden. Raised beds allow for better time management since they are easier to take care of and you won’t have to worry about weeding. They are space-efficient to make the most of what you have. Raised beds can yield up to four times more than the same amount of space planted in rows. With a couple of resources, you can make your own custom raised bed for what you want to plant. For my summer garden, we built a raised bed that could fit over ten plants. Learn how to make your own raised bed here.
Having rich and nourishing soil is the most important thing for your fall garden to have. Without it, the seeds won’t grow. For healthy soil, consider which fertilizer to use. There are organic options you can get at a local home improvement store such as fish-based fertilizer that will provide your garden with an abundance of nutrients or peat moss which will help hold in those nutrients. But just like the raised bed, there are easy, do-it-on-your-own alternatives. Composting is great for gardening because it provides a variety of nutrients to the plants and is also a great practice to reduce your household waste. You can create your own compost by saving food scraps that you would otherwise throw out such as eggshells, banana peels, coffee grounds, and vegetable ends. Add these to your soil and cover with dirt. Work in the compost so that the newest additions are not always at the top. You need all of the soil to be rich, not just what is at the top.
Along with compost, consider adding worm castings or manure as a natural fertilizer to stimulate plant growth. Using this will help with soil retention since manure releases nutrients over time. You can also double manure as mulch to keep the bed warm. When the weather gets colder, it will be important to keep the air closest to the bed warm.
Since the growing process for a fall garden does take longer, it is important to plant crops that do not have a long growing period and will flourish in a timely manner. Some of your plants will be fighting the frost. For an outdoor fall garden, it’s important to plant the seeds a little deeper than in the spring for extra warmth. Aim to plant speedy crops that go from seed to table in 40 days or less. These crops include arugula, mustard, spinach, turnips, radishes, kale, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, and rutabaga.
During the warmer months of August and September, keep the plants well-watered and slightly shaded. Give about one inch of water per week. Once it is colder, they really only need one good watering a week instead of small, frequent waterings.
It is especially important in a raised bed to stagger the plants for space efficiency. Aim to form triangles in your bed instead of rows. Be careful not to overcrowd plants that have large growth potential. Stressing plants can make them more susceptible to diseases and insect attacks.
When you can, grow vertically or upside down. This will save you space and increase your yield by giving plants the support they need to flourish. Tomatoes, pole beans, peas, squash, melons, small pumpkins, and cucumbers need to be supported vertically in order to reach their full potential. Create hangers from recycled materials such as bottles or buy one at the store that you can hang from your balcony or gutters. Letting these plants hang gives them plenty of space for growth and can be a beautiful addition to your home. You can also use trellises, a fence, cages, or stakes to support vertical growth. Wrap the plants around the support system and reinforce when it’s necessary.
Certain plants grow well with each other and can promote greater yields for all the plants in the bed. Grouping companion plants will save space in the garden, reduce pests, increase the yield, diversity, and overall plant health by sharing nutrients. Peas can improve low-quality soil with bountiful nutrients. Alaskan peas are a good companion for a vast majority of plants and can survive temperatures reaching down to the 20s. Other companion plants are the Native American three sisters: corn, beans, squash. Tomatoes, basil, onions. Leaf lettuce and peas. Carrots, radishes, onions. Beets and celery. And when in doubt add some peas into the mix.
If your plants are still growing by the time it has started to frost, cover them with an old sheet or blanket. As previously stated, some plants do well with frost such as collards, whereas others do not do well with frost like cucumbers. Consider this when you begin planting your fall seeds. Leave plants that can handle that kind of coolness on the outer edges so the warmth can stay in the middle of the bed. Do not let your plants become too exposed to the cold and frost.
What To Plant For a Fall Garden: