I know, I know. It’s not even the end of June and I’m talking about planting your fall garden. But I’m trying to get you motivated about veggies! There are still a lot of sun hours to turn into food. Plus, when you are trying to maximize your garden space as well as growing season, getting your fall garden in the ground is incredibly important. Because how cool would it be to dig up a fresh carrot or picking a cabbage for dinner when it’s cold outside? So, let’s plan a fall garden.
If you are looking for a great way to keep track of your gardens for years to come, check out our Digital Garden Journal. It’s a digital spreadsheet that helps you manage not only your seedlings but also your seed inventories, soil testing, orchard, harvests and so much more.
Why Plant A Fall Garden
Because You Can
The first reason you should plant a fall garden is simply because you can. Yes, you’re allowed to take all those nom noms that don’t grow well in the middle of summer, and plant them in the fall. Carrots, peas, cabbage, onions, etc all do much better when planted in the cooler weather.
If you don’t know when, how or what to plant in the fall and summer, you aren’t going to be successful. And let’s be real, if you’re not successful, what are the chances that you are going to want to plant again?
In Season Food
Also, I believe, we have been conditioned as consumers to believe that these fruits and veggies grow year round…. when they don’t. A trip to the grocery store will yield you a cabbage, which is a frost hardy brassica…. in the middle of July? A cabbage would never make it past April where I’m at. But there it is in the grocery store. Or peppers in December! PS, did you know that lettuce is a fall crop? It’s not for summer salads…. who knew?!
Soil Health And Weed Control
The third reason you should plant a fall garden is because soil doesn’t like to be empty. At the very least, if you decide not to plant a fall garden, grow a cover crop. Growing clover to drop nitrogen back into the soil or comfrey to bring nutrients up from WAY below the top soil, is a great way to help soil stay, or get healthy.
You can also plant wheat, rye or oats and they are a great way to suppress weeds without having to spray. When it’s done growing, you can give it to your animals or toss it in the compost bin. Speaking of animals….
If there is just absolutely no frost tolerant/hardy veggies that you want to grow, grow it for your animals! Chickens and pigs will eat anything you grow in your garden. Growing some goat specific items like beans, radish, and other greens will stretch that feed bill a little more.
We grow mangle beets, tromboncino squash and BOSS sunflowers specifically for our animals. But we also grow a ton of brassicas and other root crops for them. I will go hog wild planting various cool weather crops, simply because I love to plant and grow things. But I also understand that a lot of the foods I am growing will go to the animals.
Because It’s Cooler!
This probably should be reason number one. Seriously, nothing sucks the energy out of you quite like working in the garden when it is 100*+ outside and it’s 99% humidity. In Georgia, we only work in the gardens first thing in the morning or evening. Anytime after 10am or before 6pm and it is just too hot to do anything. And come August, even the most hardcore gardeners are struggling to find the energy to get in the garden.
For reference, most gardeners in my area have to use shade cloth for their peppers.
But in the fall, you don’t have to do that… as much. In Georgia, it’s not uncommon to wear shorts and a t shirt in November. But it’s not the dog days of summer where it’s absolutely miserable. Plus, a fall garden works better for most southern growers because it’s a much slower cool down. In spring, we can go from 70-80* days to 40* nights, or 70-80* one day and 35* the next.
When To Plant
Understanding Your Frost Dates
First, you need to determine your first frost date. Head to Google and type in “first frost date for (zip code).” For us, our first frost is 10/31. Now, because of our microclimate, our first frost is probably closer to 11/15. When I plant or start my summer garden, I do it with succession sowing in mind. I want to make sure that the last of my summer garden doesn’t freeze. Or if it does freeze, I’ve gotten the majority of what I need out of it already. It’s the same thing with my fall garden. I will start the first round of seedlings around the mid-end July. Then I keep starting seedlings until September or October depending on the plant. I’ll get to that part further down in the post.
Write It Down
After figuring out your first frost, you should write it down in your calendar and then start counting back. I do this by typing into Google something like, “How many days from 6/25/2023 to 10/31/2023.” This will spit out however many days it is. I tend to write these numbers down in my calendar so that I can make sure that I can see when to plant what.
Having these dates written down, really helps to make sure that I don’t forget anything. Working full time and part time, plus all the other homestead stuff, I am pretty busy. Making sure that I am sticking to my plans and goals is incredibly important.
Check Your Seeds
This is where your seed inventory is really going to come in handy. If you don’t have one, you can find mine by clicking the link above. It’s a list of your seeds and whether they are frost hardy, tolerant or tender. It should have dates on when to plant, days to maturity, etc. All this information is also really important.
When your checking your seeds (or ordering), make sure that you are picking seeds that are frost hardy or tolerant within your zone. We want to make sure that you’ve got enough time to plant something before it either bolts or freezes. For example, if you only have 60 days before your first frost, we want to plant something like peas that will likely give you a harvest or two because it can take a light frost. We don’t want to plant something like summer squash that really can’t take a frost without protection.
What To Plant
Make A List And Check It Twice
Our plan for our fall garden is pretty massive. But please don’t think you have to grow this much food. Remember, a lot of this food is for our animals as well as experimenting with different varieties.
We are planting kohlrabi, radish, turnip, celery, garlic, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, leeks, tulips, carrots, beans, sugar beets, broccoli, onions and rutabagas. And we are planting a LOT of it. When I was planning my fall garden, I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of seeds for this undertaking, but also the RIGHT seeds. For example, there are a couple of varieties of peas and beans that don’t grow well in the fall and I wanted to make sure that I have the right ones.
Have A Plan For What You Plant
The second most important thing when it comes to planning a fall garden, is understanding what you are going to do with it when harvested. If you have 20 pole bean plants, you better be ready for eating a TON of green beans or have the ability to can it.
My list was built on the idea that we are going to feed about 50% to the animals throughout winter. The other 50% will be eaten fresh, fermented, dehydrated or canned. Some of it will be left in the garden overwinter with mulch to keep it in good shape. The idea was that even if some of the garden failed, we would still have plenty of food.
Like I said before, we are experimenting a lot this year with different varieties. What do we like, love, hate. I don’t want to waste precious garden space if something isn’t going to grow well here or we don’t like it.
Just remember: Salads are delicious. Root veggies make amazing soups. There’s always canning. And animals are always hungry.
Pro-Tip…from not a pro.
Start keeping track of who is running sales as you go start ordering seeds. To give you some examples:
- Botanical Interests- runs a memorial day sale that drops most seeds to 40-50% off. I spent $200 on 106 packets of seeds
- Greenstalk- Every mothers day runs a sale that makes each greenstalk just about half off with the free shipping. Plus, you can usually stack a coupon with it.
- Southern Seeds- Usually runs a summer sale around June and it’s about 50% off. Sometimes more
- Amazon Prime Day- Usually you can grab really great garden gear. This year one of their sales was a 4x8x1 steel garden bed for $35.
And seeds don’t go bad, so stock up!
I’ll be adding to this list as I find more sales for you!
Should You Plant A Fall Garden?
Absolutely, YES. If you can help it, don’t let your soil sit with nothing in it. There are a bunch of ways to help improve your soil, lessen your feed bill, and so many options when it comes planting a fall garden. I really hope you give it a chance. Even a small garden is better than no garden at all.
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