By Tiffany Selvey, Master Gardener and mama of 1
As the summer winds down, most of us think the gardening season does too. Sure, we all know that mums are a graceful addition to our porches, but you can’t actually grow anything to eat this late in the year… can you?
You absolutely can!
The key to growing fall food is choosing the right crops. In our region, some plants will grow well into October, sometimes even to Thanksgiving! How good would it feel to run out to your little flower garden and harvest a salad for your holiday dinner? One year I was outside, with pouring sleet soaking my slippers, harvesting veggies as guests arrived. It wasn’t exactly glamorous, but it was a fantastic meal.
When considering fall planting, you will need to look at two things:
1. Frost tolerance- Seed packages or plant containers will say things like “frost tolerant” or “cold hardy” to let you know they can take some below freezing temperatures.
2. Days to maturity- If you are planting in mid-September, you will need crops that are both frost-tolerant and mature in less than 50 days. If you are starting with plants instead of planting seed directly, you can select items that mature in 60-70 days.
What kinds of crops meet these requirements? More than you might think.
- Carrots: Carrots can be planted in September and stored right there in the ground until you are ready to harvest. When a hard freeze is expected, just pile a few inches of leaves or straw to protect the roots from freezing.
- Radishes: Planting now will give plenty of time to harvest mature radishes before the first frost.
- Turnips: The greens are frost tolerant and are super tasty sauteed. Roots can be overwintered in the ground when prepped like carrots.
- Lettuce: Lettuce is frost-tolerant and grows very quickly.
- Cabbage: Head cabbage and Chinese cabbage will grow through the first frost, although head cabbage is more tolerant of cold than the Chinese variety.
- Sweet peas and sugar snap peas: These plants will require a small trellis, around 3 feet tall, and grow very well on tomato cages.
- Kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens: These varieties are very hardy and tend to do well even past the holidays.
Any of these varieties can be grown in containers, although containers will not insulate roots as well, so overwintering root veggies probably won’t be an option. Still, you can harvest the roots before the first hard frost and store them in a cool, dry area like an unheated garage. Choose a couple of your favorite cold-tolerant crops and try growing some this year!
Photo Caption: Sweet pea blooms are pretty enough for any ornamental garden.
Tiffany Selvey is a Master Gardener who writes about her passion for growing, cooking, and living naturally atwww.Songbird-Gardens.com. When she’s not elbow deep in soil, she enjoys raising a very active son, laughing with her husband, and wrangling their pets. Follow Tiffany’s gardening adventures on facebook and on twitter.