Southern home gardeners are blessed with the opportunity to grow fruits and vegetables almost year round. In fact, July and August are the slowest months for the garden because it’s so hot and humid. It’s a little sorry out there right now. But it is a great time to get ready for fall gardening. Fall gardening in the south is wonderful. The weather is cooler, the bugs have diminished, and there are many wonderful vegetables and fruits that do well here all fall and even into the winter.
Here are a few tips to get ready for fall gardening:
1. Take care of your soil. If you do not have soil that is full of healthy microbes and other beneficial organisms, your plants will not do well. So take the time to give your soil some love! Add good quality compost, grass clippings, worm castings, and other organic matter to your soil. Here at Cowlick Cottage Farm, we added a good 4-6 inch layer of fresh hay to all our no dig beds and raised beds. The hay helps to keep the soil moist, prevents weeds, and will eventually decompose and improve the quality of the soil. It’s an inexpensive and simple way to take care of your soil.
2. Order your seeds now! I just ordered all the seeds for Cowlick Cottage Farm from www.rareseeds.com, and they were already sold out of a few of the more popular seed selections for fall. This company offers high quality organic heirloom seeds, and I have been using them for several years now. Their paper catalog is gorgeous, and it is free. I am not affiliated with them in any way, I am just a happy customer. Of course, there are many other great seed sources, so pick your favorite and place your order. I like to order from one online source, because I automatically have an online record of everything I have ordered through the seasons. Then it’s simple to add some notes and keep track of when we planted, what we liked and what didn’t work out so well. And I always like to try a new vegetable or two, just for fun. Try some Russian Red Kale or some beautiful chard!
Determine what crops you want to grow. There are vegetables that love to grow in the heat of summer, like corn, tomatoes, green beans, and squash. But for a fall organic vegetable garden, cool weather crops are in order. Think garlic, onions, lettuce, collards, and peas. Any good gardening book will provide you with the information that you need (I recommend several on my Books page). Here is a list of what we will plant at Cowlick Cottage Farm:
Calabrese Green Sprouting Broccoli, Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage, Couer De Boeuf Des Vertus Cabbage, Chantenay Red Core Carrot, Iant’s Fava Bean, Russian Red Kale, Parris Island Cos Lettuce, Arugula, Georgia Southern Creole Collards, Japanese Giant Red Mustard, Harris Model Parsnip, Helios Radish, Laurentian Rutabaga, Five Color Silverbeet Chard, Golden Sweet Snow Peas, Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Pea, Shogoin Turnip, and our own garlic and shallots. Sound good? Think crispy salads, warming soups and stews, an of course, big pots of southern greens slow cooked with a ham hock!
3. Learn about your gardening season. To plan a fall garden, you need to know when your first frost date is. Dave’s Garden has a handy tool to help you determine your frost dates simply by plugging in your zip code. Here’s the link:http://davesgarden.com/guides/freeze-frost-dates/. Our first frost date at Cowlick Cottage Farm is November 16. Why is this important to know? Well, each crop takes a certain period of time to fully develop and mature. So in the fall, you count backwards from your area’s first average frost date to determine when to plant each crop. Your seed catalog or packet will tell you how long it takes for the seed to come to maturity. For example, Golden Sweet Snow Peas need 60-70 days to mature, so I need to plant them at least 60-70 days before our November 16 frost date in order for them to have time to mature. I will calculate the appropriate planting date for each different crop. There are other cool weather crops that are not harmed by a freeze, such as kale, which actually benefits from a snappy freeze. In fact, many of the crops that we plant here will grow through most of the winter, especially if I cover them with a frost cloth on the really freezing nights.
Enjoy planning your fall garden. It won’t be long before we are back out in the garden planting!