One of the blogs I really enjoy reading is DigginFood, managed and operated by west coast gardener Willi Galloway. Willi blogs about what's happening in her garden and kitchen, sharing some great gardening tips and recipes along the way. She is West Coast Editor of Organic Gardening magazine and the garden expert on eHow.com. Willi is also a weekly guest on Seattle’s KUOW 94.9 gardening program called Greendays Gardening Panel.
I'm always looking for new ways and ideas to extend the garden season. So I asked Willi if she would be willing to write a guest post on my blog on fall gardening tips. She agreed and I am excited to share her advice with you. So, please join me in welcoming my friend Willi Galloway to Birds'n Such.
I’m very excited to be guest blogging on Birds ‘n Such! I love to stop by and learn about the birds that fly through Alan’s garden, because they are so different from the visitors to my urban Seattle yard, which is devoted mainly to vegetables. Even though we don’t have a lot of places for birds to perch in our yard, I happened to step outside at the right moment earlier this week and caught sight of an Anna’s hummingbird taking a sip of nectar from some radish blossoms.
I let lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, and radishes go to seed in my garden in late summer and early fall for the simple reason that that they self sow and grow with no work at all on my part. The salad greens don’t always plant themselves where I would choose, but it’s the easiest way to ensure a crop of fall greens. Of course, with a little planning you can easily extend your harvest to Thanksgiving and beyond and keep the plants contained in your beds:
Get Your Timing Right. So often people think about planning their fall garden now, as their squash and tomatoes and peppers begin to fade, but late summer is the best time to start a fall garden, especially when planting from seed. Getting an early start allows the plants to establish before the days grow short and cool. But not to worry if you didn’t plant Brussels sprouts in mid-July or beets and carrots in early August! You can think about planting your fall crops earlier next year while you get some seedlings in the ground now.
Plant Seedlings. Look for seedlings of cool weather crops, including kale, Asian greens, Swiss chard, lettuce, mustard, and collards at your local nursery or farmers market. Seedlings give you about a six-week jumpstart on seeds and they require less work, since you won’t have to thin them. You can stick seedlings in around larger summer vegetables that are still producing or clear an entire bed for fall crops—either way, be sure to dig in an inch or two of compost before planting. I pack fall planted seedlings a bit closer together because they take about two weeks longer to mature than ones planted in spring. If you plan on direct sowing or starting your own fall seedlings in the future, be sure to look for varieties advertised as “cold-tolerant”.
Extend the Season. All of the vegetables I mentioned above thrive in cooler weather. You can leave the plants exposed, but mulching around them with a thick layer of straw and building a simple hoop house over your bed and covering it with plastic or a heavy row cover will help to extend the growing season and protect the plants from frost. (Click here to get my plans for building a simple hoop house).
Be Patient. As our autumn days grow shorter and cooler, the plants slow down and by late winter they’ll just sit tight and wait for better growing conditions. At this point, patience is called for on your part! Arugula, kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard often survive the winter—even in cold climates like Colorado or Minnesota—and put on a big surge of growth in early March, which means you can start harvesting homegrown salads before most people plant their peas!