As the cooler temperatures and shorter days of the fall season become noticeable, I start to think about getting things ready for the winter that lies ahead. But I also start to look at the garden and realize it will all be coming to an end soon. The greens are starting to become less palatable and its time to start pulling them out. But it is also time to start fall planting of cool weather crops for the fall garden that will hopefully produce before the snow flies.
Most people in my area do not talk about fall gardening unless it is to plant things like garlic, flowering bulbs or raspberries for early spring growth. In warmer climates where the summer's are so hot, the fall planting of cool weather crops for one final harvest before winter hits or to harvest throughout the winter is a big thing. And in some parts of Canada where the winters are drastically milder, they also do fall planting of cool weather crops so that they go into a holding pattern and are basically alive inside a cooler allowing them to harvest well into the winter. But for me, in Zone 3b, my fall garden looks similar but different than everyone else's around the world.
Factors to consider when planting a fall garden
Because my first frost date is somewhere between September 11 - 20 and the average daytime temperature according to Weatherspark.com for the month of September is 14C - 21C (57F - 70F) with nights cooling off to 2C - 8C (36F - 46F), any fall gardening that I do should see the plants be reasonably well established by the time September 1 hits, or shortly thereafter. Although things will grow in the cooler temperatures, they will just be slower and may just go into a holding pattern.
Also factored into fall gardening, like everywhere, the hours of daylight starts to drastically reduce as well, leaving me with an average of 12 hours and 12 minutes of daylight for the month of September according to Weatherspark.com. And as the Oregon State University explains in the article Environmental factors affecting plant growth at this time of the year I am right on the cusp of entering the "short day" (less than 12 hours of daylight) season when nothing really grows fast, if at all. As most garden vegetables require "long day" (more than 12 hours of daylight), the growth of garden vegetables will be affected by the shortened daylight when fall gardening.
So to be able to actually harvest something from things I plant I need to take the temperatures and daylight into consideration and add about two weeks to the days to maturity on the seed packet to somewhat adjust for cooler temperatures and less daylight. Although one would expect that days to maturity would mean the number of days from germination till you are harvesting, as Gardenbetty.com explains in her article Days to Maturity: Surprise, It’s Not What Your Seed Packets Say, "For seeds that are usually sowed directly in the soil, like corn and radishes, time to maturity is measured from the day the seed germinates to the day the plant is harvested." . She goes on to say that "For seeds that are usually started indoors first and then planted in the garden, like tomatoes and peppers, time to maturity is measured from the day you transplant the seedlings in the soil to the day you pick the first ripe fruit.". So when selecting what I want to plant for fall planting, the shorter the days to maturity the better.
If I wanted to plant quick growing summer plants such as zucchini for harvesting in late fall I would need to add another couple weeks to the days to maturity, plus the two weeks for shorter day length, as they explain in the article Counting the Days to Maturity: Calculating planting dates for fall vegetables. Because I plant all these type of "Long day" plants in the spring for harvest into summer and fall, I typically do not worry about this. But it does come into consideration when I plant my spring garden, which I have planted as late as June 15 in the previous years, only giving me 80 days of growing if I allow an average one week germination time.
With all these factors to consider, plus trying to get small seeds such as carrots to stay moist enough in the heat of summer, the choice to plant a fall garden is really something that takes some planning and effort. And could be why gardeners in my area typically leave their fall gardening restricted to cleaning up, planting spring flowers and planting hardneck garlic.
Planning a fall garden
For the 2022 season I planted all my greens in the raised beds I built and used in the spring of 2021. I explore gardening in these raised beds and other containers in the blog How to container garden. I planted some of the greens in the first week of May and then succession sowed another bed around the end of May, but with the drought and heat a lot of the greens bolted and their time is done.
So by pulling the greens out that had bolted and harvesting the hardneck garlic I planted in the fall of 2021, I would have quite a bit of real estate in which to plant a fall garden. But being I am at the middle of August already, I sort of missed my prime window of opportunity but decided for a few cents worth of seeds, I would give it a whirl. But what to plant?
As Roots & Refuge Farm identifies in her article What to Plant in July (or August) for a Bountiful Fall Harvest cool season crops like brassica's, and root vegetables could be planted along with short season summer crops and greens. Being that my average frost date is September 11 - 20, that leaves me with 18 - 35 days of growing and only 45 days till I move into the short day part of the season. My first thought was not to bother with doing anything, but decided that I would like to have another feed or two of fresh tender young greens from the garden before I have to move into the house to grow my greens as I did through the winter of 2021/22.
Planting the fall garden
But before I could direct sow the seeds I decided to grow into the raised beds, I needed to harvest what I could prior to pulling them up and feeding to the chickens.
Making full use of the plants for me is important and so I decided that all the greens I could find would be dehydrated in my Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator and then powdered for use in a greens powder. As explained in the article DIY Homemade Greens Powder: Preserve Your Garden Greens, greens powder is made from dehydrated greens which are pulverized into a powder for addition to smoothies, yogurt, etc.. "Adding in a teaspoon of homemade dried vegetables can be a great idea to supplement your diet to ensure you’re getting the vitamins and nutrients from the greens during the winter months.". I am all in and so I gathered what I could - a couple varieties of lettuce, white russian kale, swiss chard, dandelion greens, parsley and some nasturtium leaves. With the nutrient value of each of these greens (click on links for this information) this powder will be a nutrient dense addition to the pantry shelves.
Once the beds were cleaned of all the garlic and greens, it was time to plant. I went through my seeds and decided on the shortest days to maturity that I had, namely Cherry Belle and French Breakfast radishes. Being they mature in about 25 days, to determine the planting date I would count backwards from my first frost date of September 11, ensuring I subtract an additional two weeks for the "fall factor". This means that I should have planted these radishes around August 3. But, depending on the fall I should have enough time to enjoy a feed and maybe enough to ferment some. I do let radishes go to seed and eat the pods throughout the summer, but some actual radishes would be nice to have.
Next on the list was long standing bloomsdale spinach at 40 - 48 days to maturity. To take advantage of the growing season and determine planting date, planting should have occurred on July 19, including the fall factor. However, spinach planted in the spring or summer always seems to bolt, depending on variety, so a fall planting should avoid that. Being it will also take a light frost, it becomes a candidate despite the shortened season I have of only 18 days to first possible frost date. Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard was also seeded despite its 60 days to maturity rating. And completing the last row in this bed was Laurentian Rutabaga at 100 days to maturity.
For the middle raised bed, I decided to plant amongst the June-bearing strawberries and my peppermint herb (check out Home Remedies using Natural Medicines - a glimpse into my Apothecary and use of herbal remedies for more information on herbs and their uses) some Purple top turnips at 55 days to maturity, Purple Vienna Kohlrabi with 55 - 60 days to maturity and for the next part of the bed was some more leaf lettuce. Price head and grand rapids leaf lettuce, at 45 days to maturity, are my go to for this type of application and for winter indoor growing.
And for the third and final bed with my Everbearing Strawberries, I will be ripping out all the greens over the course of the next weeks to make the beds ready for the hardneck garlic varieties I have ordered.
Planting of the garlic will not happen until just prior to freeze up so I have some time to let the purple top turnips grow some more. I am really expanding my fall planting of garlic this year and am trialing a number of varieties:
- Chesnok Red from John Boy Farms
- Majestic from John Boy Farms
- Big Boy from John Boy Farms
- Russian Red from Kipp Garlic
I ordered a number of bulbs of each variety and in thinking about it a bit as I write this, there won't be sufficient room for all these varieties. So I think in this raised bed I will plant some of the unnamed variety I got from Early's I planted last fall and just harvested. I will let it cure up and then plant some in this bed to see what I get.
For the new varieties, I will make a raised bed by mounding the soil in my garden, adding some manure, planting the garlic and then mulching with the hardwood mulch I got for the Back to Eden beds I explored in Achieving a Permaculture Design Principle with the Back to Eden Gardening method. I think this lasagna garden method, similar to what Simple Living Alaska uses in Turning this Bare Land into a Garden will work really well for this.
Being I am planning on transitioning the part of my garden closest to the tree line to this type of raised bed gardening in hopes I will have less tree root competition, I have been exploring doing something similar to what Homesteading Family uses exclusively as they explore in No-Till Gardening – Is It Right For You?. I guess we will see what spring brings, but for the fall planting of the garlic, a mounded bed will be built combining these two methods of gardening.
The thing about fall planting of cool weather crops is that it is all done so on a chance, chance of success and a chance for a learning opportunity. Being I am late with the fall planting, the odds are not in my favor to ensure that I get a crop from everything I planted with only 18 days left till the average first frost. But my expectations are not huge as I am only hoping to be able to harvest a few radishes and the greens from everything else as microgreens, making success a little more achievable. I figure it only cost me a few cents in seeds to try so why not give it a whirl. And besides, there is also a chance that it will all do well and I will get the greens I am hoping for. After all, no one knows for certain what the fall will bring.
There are all sorts of ways to do fall planting and although I could certainly extend the season through use of a high tunnel or a cold frame or by getting my green house repaired and winterized, I don't have any of that infrastructure, yet. In the meantime, I give fall planting in the raised beds a whirl and hope for the best. Wish me luck!
I hope you enjoyed this exploration into my journey with late season fall planting. I wonder how many other people plant a fall garden.
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- Quebec Homestead - SHEDWARS21: Northern gardener tips Zone 3 Canada Climate
- Short Season Garden