The recent cool days and nights have reminded me that fall is right around the corner. That means I need to start thinking about my autumn garden. Soon I will be enjoying the last of my summer crops – including tomatoes, potatoes, squash and peppers and will start preparing my fall garden.
Farmers around the Lehigh Valley are going through the same process right now, tearing out cucumbers and replanting carrots, kale and beets. I typically pick my fall plants by their hardiness and maturity speed. I have found that the key to a successful fall harvest is timely planting because the crops need time to grow and mature before it gets too cold. Most of the plants will tolerate a light and sometimes even a hard frost with some frost protection, but its best to get them in as early as possible since the average first frost date for our area is October 20.
I usually try to choose varieties that are known for quick maturity, which will be noted on the seed packet or in the seed catalog. Growth often slows down on later season plantings especially when the weather is cloudy. I count back from the days to maturity on the packet to figure my approximate planting date and typically add a couple of weeks for the slower fall growing time. Sometimes transplants from a local garden center are useful, if they are available, as they can save growing time.
It’s best to look for hardy vegetables that like cool weather and will tolerate shorter daylight hours such as spinach, swiss chard, members of the brassica family like cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, kohlrabi and broccoli; and root vegetables including turnips, carrots, parsnip and beets.
Then, before planting, I clean up my summer garden, removing old plant materials. After that I add back some of the nutrients my summer harvest has depleted from the soil by adding a thin layer of aged manure or compost made from last years shredded leaves and grass. It’s important to plant a tad deeper that you would for spring planting and to ensure that the new plantings get enough water during the remaining dog days of summer.
Our typical Indian summer weather is ideal for cool season crops, but sometimes row covers or a thicker layer of mulch is needed, to be able to keep harvesting even after a few light frosts.
It’s also important to know when to harvest each crop. Some vegetables are quite forgiving in having a long harvest window, others can go from tasty to bitter overnight. Many of the fall root crops can be left in the ground throughout the winter if mulched heavily.
Sources: Season Classifications of Vegetables
Support Your Farmer: Pheasant Hill Farm is owned and operated by George and Melanie DeVault . They focus on quality, growing everything from arugula to zinnias, with chemical free blueberries, raspberries, heirloom tomatoes, greens and flowers taking top billing. Melanie focuses on specialty cut flower bouquets, and starting hundreds of seed varieties, most heirloom, in one of their four high tunnels. You can find them at the Easton Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and the Emmaus Farmer’s Market on Sundays.
|Fall crops recently seeded in a high tunnel at Pheasant Hill Farm|