My favorite season: Fall
Why a fall garden is totally worth growing
It might sound strange for a gardener, but fall is my favorite season. I know, I know it's not exactly high growing time anymore and most of our beloved warm season crops have done their job and need to be removed from the northern garden. And yet, I still love it and not only because of the cooler and fresher air outside...
These are my reasons why I LOVE FALL GARDENS:
much reduced pest and disease pressure
less maintenance (watering, weeding..)
no danger of bolting due to heat
greens are growing like mad
fresh produce right into the winter months
Having a look at my list you will see that fall gardens look like way more fun and way less work than the summer garden and I find, that's absolutely true. Granted we can only grow so many varieties in fall, they grow a bit slower and we don't need to prune and harvest so often.
My favorite reason is the reduced danger of pest and diseases though. There is not much that really gets to me when it comes to animals living in my garden, but there are 2 creatures I just can not stand: caterpillars of the white cabbage butterfly and slugs.
At least the slug problem can be reduced with growing in raised beds, but the white cabbage butterfly?! As lovely as the butterfly itself looks like, the caterpillars are my enemy. I love growing kale, broccoli, pac choi, arugula (yes, they even eat that!) and Napa cabbage, but it gets frustrating when your plants get destroyed by tiny green worms. The mean thing about these caterpillars is their ability to totally disguise themselves on a leave. They have the same color and just look like part of the plant, especially when they are small. Of course there are ways to do something about it, but I don't like to spray (even though Bt works really well against them) and I don't like my plants being eaten by someone else. So the only way to safe my plants is by 1) check your plants daily and handpick and kill all caterpillars and/or 2) grow under cover. I have tried now for 2 years growing brassicas in the open, I confess I feel defeated. Despite of the ambitious bird population in our yard the butterflies always seem to win. I can't see a biological balance here at all! That means, next spring I'll get the row covers back out and plant most of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages and kale under cover. It doesn't look as nice, but at least we'll get something to eat.
I'm sure you understand the pest pressure issue now and see why fall gardening is my favorite! But back on track. The cooler temperatures in late September and October (at least in normal years) reduce the activity of garden pests. Butterflies need a certain temperature to be able to fly and it's just not hot enough anymore. The same accounts for many other insects, so in fall, we are relatively safe from their impact.
I love lettuce. I love any kind of greens and veggies that you can turn into a salad, so lettuces, arugula, radishes, beets, carrots and herbs are my absolute favorite. Of course I love tomatoes and cucumbers too, but they are not available for long fresh from the garden if you don't own a greenhouse or grow a huge indoor garden. Cool season plants are the easiest and fastest plants you can grow at home and they are the most rewarding. If you are an impatient person, then grow a cool season garden because from seed to harvest it might take as little as 35 days. Radishes are definitely the winners in this race and sowing radishes bi-weekly from August into September, you have a permanent supply of these tasty roots. Another plus of growing radishes (and pac choi) in fall is not-bolting due to hot weather. Very often April sown radishes, arugula or pac choi bolt in late May due to the first heat wave. The plants get triggered by the high temperatures to set flowers and put all their energy into it. If we are not fast enough with harvesting these crops in time, radishes will be woody, arugula stringy and pac choi bitter. But not in fall! Usually it doesn't get hot enough in September to trigger bolting. It even accounted for 2023. Despite the extraordinarily warm September/October crops didn't bolt (which was a relief to me, because I started to get worried), but thrived healthily in our kitchen garden.
Comes August, it is time to start growing your fall garden if you want to focus on the easy greens. Kale and lettuce started from seed in August will be grown to maturity once the colder days arrive. You will even get more than one round of lettuce if your sow bi-weekly in August. Carrots and beets take a bit longer, but started in early August, you will be able to harvest sweet little root veggies comes November.
Once established you can grow your fall garden right into the winter months. The best way to protect your plants is by growing in a cold frame or adding a low tunnel to your existing bed. Sunny days heat up the air inside the cover enough to keep deep frost out. Comes December, you might want to add an extra layer of protection that rests directly on the plants like row covers or clear plastic tarps. So basically a fall garden can easily become your winter garden! Imagine to harvest fresh lettuce, pac choi or carrots in mid February from your outdoor garden! It is possible even in our colder climate, but we need to grow a fall garden first ;-)
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