Your vegetable garden is most likely at its peak of production right about now, with basketloads of summer favorites ripening every day. In just a few short weeks, though, the season for tomatoes, cucumbers, and other warm-weather crops ends. Good news: You don't have to wait until next spring to harvest more fresh vegetables from your garden. This week, you can plant a variety of crops that thrive in the cool temperatures of fall and some that even tolerate winter temperatures in the North.
There are many benefits to enjoy when you extend your growing season past summer. Most of the common, warm-weather pests and diseases either slow down or disappear completely when the weather turns cooler, making growing organically even easier. Fall and winter gardening is also good for your soil. Many organic gardeners are familiar with the cover crops that protect and build the soil. Fall and winter vegetables offer the same level of protection and, with careful management, do not deplete your soil. Best of all, crops such as carrots and kale taste better after they have endured some cold weather. If you've never gardened in fall before or even if you're an old hand at it, this guide is full of hints and tricks that make it easy and satisfying.
If you've gardened only in the summer, your first thought might be that your area is too cold even to consider fall and winter production. It doesn't get much colder than Maine, where grower Robin Follette harvests kale, cabbage, chard, arugula, endive, spinach, mache, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and broccoli well into November with little or no protection. These crops are able to withstand a fair amount of cold and frost.
"Since learning to grow two months longer than usual for this area, I've stopped canning and freezing so many vegetables. We're eating fresh instead," Follette says, adding, "I pull carrots, beets, and turnips and dig potatoes until just before the ground freezes. I start pulling carrots when they're small but enjoy late carrots more because they're sweeter after the ground gets cold."
Frost in mid-September does not deter Ann Caffey, an OG test gardener, from growing vegetables in her Zone 4 garden tucked into the foothills of the Rockies in southern Colorado. Her secret for growing success in this high desert environment is what she calls the "waffle design." In September, she plants broccoli, chard, cabbage, arugula, and other cold-weather crops in sunken areas that resemble a waffle, creating a protected microclimate that is also enhanced by fencing. Because deep watering is better than frequent shallow applications, Caffey practices flood irrigation, watering up to 2 inches twice a week and using layers of straw to hold in moisture. Come October, she stops watering, and she keeps on harvesting right through the snow.