Spring has come and gone. The Summer is crawling slowly towards Labor Day Weekend and the start of school. Most gardeners have really stopped thinking about their gardens, aside from getting out there to harvest the Spring planted bounty (or throw a shoe at a marauding bunny rabbit). However, the 2022 garden season is not over yet! Mid-august is a great time to re-visit some of our favorite Spring planted crops. And for a few of these crops, Fall is even a better time to plant.
First you ask, “what can I possibly plant in the middle of August and still harvest this year?” Well, how about radishes, spinach and arugula (oh my!). But that is not even all, for a wide variety of asian greens do great in the Fall, or baby leaf lettuce, and even salad turnips (yumm!!). There is a plethora of crops that can add to your ongoing harvest, or even add to your Winter stores (we love growing Spinach and Mustard Greens in the Fall, then prepping a whole batch of Indian Saag and freezing it for Winter consumption).
Benefits of Fall planting?
There are some really good reasons to plant these crops in the Fall (in addition to, or instead of the Spring). First and foremost, insect pests! Some of these crops are relentlessly attacked in the Spring by bugs (because let’s be serious, these crops are delicious and everyone wants to eat them.) Flea beetles in the Spring/early Summer can decimate crops in the Brassica (aka Broccoli) family, such as radishes, turnips, mustard greens and most of the asian greens. And then there is the Cabbage Root Maggot, which can make growing a beautiful salad turnip nigh impossible. (And if you have never eaten one of these beautiful turnips, you are missing out. Divine!) By Fall, both of these little garden pests have mostly moved through their seasonal life cycle and are hunkering down for Winter.
A second reason Fall planting can be a great thing is avoiding the Spring curse of bolting plants. Bolting is when a plant flowers, often ending its usefulness as a vegetable crop. Lengthening days and heat are notorious for making all of these cool preferring crops bolt in the Spring, sometimes before you even get to harvest them. In the Fall, the shortening days and cooling nights discourage bolting. And in root crops like radishes and salad turnips, it encourages excellent sizing up of the edible bulb we all love.
Fall gardening considerations…
There are some subtleties and considerations to growing crops in the Fall, which is why we would call it Gardening 102 (or possibly 103). It is a great add-on to your basic gardening knowledge. Much of this has to do with the shortening days, cooling weather and weakening sunlight. These elements will slow the plants growth, and it is typical to add at least 10 days to “Days to Maturity” estimation for a crop.
Secondly, due to these changing environmental conditions, giving each plant more space is a prudent idea. In late Spring to early Summer, the ever increasing sunlight intensity allows you to crowd plants tight and they can gather more than enough energy to grow rapidly. In the Fall, providing extra space to account for the decreasing day length and solar intensity can help the crops to mature as quickly as possible.
Just as in the Spring….
Be prepared to cover for an early hard frost. Most of these crops can shrug off a light frost (30 deg and above), but a hard frost may take a bit of protection. But this is no different than Spring gardening in Minnesota! Also, fertility is important even in the Fall. If you are planting these crops in a garden bed that has already been planted and harvested this season, then you may need to provide a slight fertility enhancement to the soil to maximize Fall production.
Here’s wishing you all Happy Fall Planting Season 🙂