Winter is Coming: Planting for Fall & Beyond

by Lori Fontanes

I know it’s hard to imagine when the mercury is still hitting 90 and the tomatoes are going strong but the end of summer is actually the perfect time to think about winter and even next season.  With the hardest work in your vegetable garden mostly over, just a little more effort can pay off in fall salads and a head start on next year’s bounty, too.

GOING FOR SECONDS: PLANTING FALL CROPS

Compared to spring, timing the planting of seeds and seedlings for a late autumn harvest can be tricky.  If you start too soon and the heat persists, your cool-loving radishes and lettuces won’t thrive and may bolt if it gets too hot.  Start too late and you may get pea vines but no pods before snow and frost kick in.

But now that winter in Westchester County often holds off until December, if you start cool weather seeds in August or September and make sure they’re well-watered and located in shadier spots, you should be able to get a second round of cool season crops.  Follow the seed packet guidelines to decide which plants are suitable and which month to start; choose heat-tolerant varieties for best results.  If, despite your efforts, the plants seem to find the heat or light too intense, you can also try suspending pieces of agricultural shade cloth over them.  (See Supplies, below.)

At the other end of the thermometer, once the heat dies back and before a hard frost, you could consider cold frames or crop covers to eke out a few more weeks or even months.  Crop covers won’t be effective in extreme conditions but you can keep the cold frames on the ground all winter.  If using frames, it’s best to position them where you want them and plant directly into the frame.  (You can cover already growing plants with cold frames, too, but you need to take into consideration the footprint of usable space.) Once in place, start by leaving the cold frame’s lid open all the way then lowering as daytime temperatures also drop.  Just make sure to monitor the weather as the plants can over-heat or fungal issues can emerge if the lid is too low on unexpectedly hot days.  I also use a weather app with notifications to make sure I get frost warnings in time to cover my delicate seedlings or pick those last tomatoes.

THE CURIOUS LIFE OF A GARLIC BULB

Of the dozens of crops I’ve grown in my backyard, there’s only one with a peculiarly long, fall-to-summer lifecycle: cultivated garlic (Allium sativum L.).  Seed garlic cloves are planted just prior to winter, then rest without rotting in frozen soil and slowly awaken during the longer, warmer days of spring.  As you may notice with your ornamental alliums or even onion grass, garlic gets going early and sends up those first green leaves as soon as the snows melt.  A few months later, you’ll be able to harvest the scapes and around July, the bulbs.  It’s a really long journey but since you don’t have to baby them like many other veggies, it’s not a lot of work and worth the wait.  Their biggest requirements are healthy, fertile soil (they’re heavy feeders) and time.  So, order yours soon as some varieties sell out quickly.  If you miss out this year, you can place your order next summer for fall 2018 shipping and planting for a summer 2019 harvest.

OVER-WINTER IS COMING

There’s one more way to maximize cool crop yields that doesn’t involve two plantings or waiting eight months to eat– that’s right, just ignore winter and keep growing straight through. Growers in our part of the country and even further north use greenhouses and high tunnels but you don’t have to get quite that farm-geeky (unless you want to!).  A few cold frames or maybe a small polytunnel can also protect your cold crops during the worst of winter.  Not all cool weather plants will make it but if you keep both seedlings and soil covered, you stand a chance with mâche or cruciferous crops such as kale and broccoli.  Plant mâche seeds in the fall and this super-slow grower will putter along until ready for harvest in March or April.  Plant crucifer seedlings (your local nursery will have suitable varieties in September or October) and if properly coddled (and with a little luck), they won’t go to seed in March but will continue their interrupted growth into spring and summer. 

In recent years, our winter temperatures and snowfall have been extraordinarily variable so it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect with your edible experiments.  The number one key to success is to cover the soil and protect it from the drying effects of cold and wind.  In addition to crop covers and cold frames, I also use straw bales as windbreaks and insulation. You can pack the outside of the cold frames with the bales and use broken-down straw from the previous season as part of the growing medium within the frame.  Some people even surround their raised beds with bricks or stones to capture a bit more of that winter sun.  And, then, before you and your plants know it, spring greens will be right around the corner.

FALL PLANTING CHECKLIST:

  • Cold-hardy seedlings and seeds for autumn
  • Cold frames or crop covers including shade cloth
  • Weather app on your smartphone
  • Loose straw and straw bales for soil and plant nourishment and protection

COOL SEASON & OVER-WINTER PLANT IDEAS:

  • Garlic bulbs for next summer harvest
  • Mâche seeds and broccoli seedlings (can overwinter if pampered)
  • Peas, radishes, lettuces, spinach, kale, short variety carrots

FURTHER READING:

Coleman, Eliot. Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Around. Chelsea Green Pub., 1999.

Engeland, Ron L. Growing Great Garlic: the Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers. Filaree Productions, 1994.

SUPPLIES:

Straw bales–ask the seller to make sure they’re okay for edible gardens. Try Benny’s Feed Barn in Bedford Hills.  Remember you want straw, not hay.

Crop covers and other suppliesTerritorial Seed Company, Growers Supply

Shade cloth– Gardeners Supply Company

Writer/backyard farmer Lori Fontanes reports for Acres USA and other agricultural publications and speaks about food, environmental and wellness issues in Westchester County.  She also serves on the City of Rye Conservation Commission/Advisory Committee and Rye Sustainability Committee.  Follow her on Twitter @LoriFontanes.

Tips for Enhancing Soil from Doug DeCandia

Enjoy these informative videos featuring Doug DeCandia of the Westchester Grower’s Alliance.  These videos show Doug’s approach to improving the soil with bionutrients to enhance his garden, naturally!

Be sure to check out Doug’s YouTube channel for more helpful videos or attend an upcoming Bionutrient Food and Farming Meeting at Westchester Land Trust.

Sow What Now? Best Bets for June Sowing

 

May 31, 2017|

Planting too early in the spring is one of the most common garden mistakes. But this time of year a different misconception among new gardeners is equally unfruitful: Not planting because they think it’s too late.

Whether you’re just getting your first seeds in the ground, or you’re starting the process of succession planting, June is still a great time to sow seeds.

Best crops for direct-seeding during the month of June:

  • radishes
  • lettuce
  • beans
  • cucumbers
  • basil
  • cilantro
  • Swiss chard
  • zucchini

Make sure that the crops you sow now will give you plenty to harvest by checking the days to maturity listed for the variety. All of the crops listed above grow well through the summer months, mature quickly, and will offer a good harvest even if planted later this month. Not surprisingly, most of them are considered warm-season crops, but even some cool-season crops, including lettuce and radishes, can still do well when grown throughout the summer. You’ll have the most success with these by paying attention to irrigation, planting in a corner of the garden that gets some afternoon shade, or by harvesting when plants are slightly under full size. Summer lettuces can be harvested as baby greens instead of mature heads to help ensure that the leaves remain tender and without bitterness.

For more garden tips, visit Shanynsiegel.com

October Cover Crops

Doug DeCandia, a local farmer with the Food Bank for Westchester and organizer of the Bionutrient Food and Farming in Westchester group, and Ellen Best, a member of the Bionutrient Food and Farming in Westchester group, have created some great videos to help farmers and gardeners improve their soil and grow better food.  This month, we have included a couple of these videos below with great tips about early and mid-October cover crops to help your garden stay productive and nutrient filled!

Cover Crops

Cover crops are planted at the end of a growing season with the purpose of protecting and enriching the soil for the next harvest cycle.  The healthier your soil, the healthier your plants will be the following season.

  1. In this first video learn from Doug which cover crops to plant and why.

2. In this second video Doug demonstrates how to plant cover crop seeds.

3. In this final video, see the growth of cover crops planted before winter for early spring vegetable planting.

 

Chop and Drop and Inter-Crop

Doug DeCandia is a local farmer employed by the Food Bank for Westchester and organizer of a group called Bionutrient Food and Farming in Westchester whose members focus on improving soil to grow food and other environmentally friendly farming methods.  He and one of the group members, Ellen Best, have created some great videos to help farmers and gardeners improve their soil and grow better food.  We have included a couple of these videos below with great tips on weeding and smart ideas about which vegetables to plant together as you think about next year.

Chop and Drop

While the summer may be winding down, the heat certainly feels like it is here to stay! Don’t let that keep you away from your garden for too long. With many vegetables still ripening, it is crucial that you don’t let weeds overtake your garden.

Doug has some helpful tips to keep your weeds under control without spending hours in the sun. Instead of meticulously weeding your garden and throwing them all into the compost, let them fertilize your plants! Doug has a simple mantra to keep you going: pull, cultivate, and leave in place. Some people call it “chop and drop” which is essentially letting the wild plants decompose right there around the ones you intend to grow. For the full details on how Doug keeps weeds under control, click below.

Inter-Cropping

You might also be starting to reflect on your summer season and thinking about what you would change for next year. This is the perfect time to consider inter-cropping your plants. Inter-cropping is the practice of planting and growing different vegetables together, allowing them to play off of each other’s strengths while simultaneously making your garden stronger against plant-specific pests. Doug planted his green beans and fennel together, and now they’re thriving. He will also show you how planting the “three sisters” (corn, squash and beans) together works so well. Check out Doug’s full video below to see what crops to plant together and when. 

And if you want to see an update of where the “three sisters” are today, check out this more recent video. For more information, this article contains some interesting charts listing what to plant together for use of space, healthy soil, and pest control. What inter-cropping will you do next year?

If you are not yet a member of the Bionutrient Food Association and would like to join, or would like to learn more about the organization, its efforts and its mission please visit http://bionutrient.org/, https://bionutrient.org/membership

Keeping a Garden Productive – All Summer Long

Many vegetable plants thrive in the summer months, but many gardeners find it challenging to keep a garden productive through the intense heat of July and August. Here are a few quick tips for keeping a garden productive…all summer long.

1. Keep Harvesting

Many garden vegetables are annual crops — they’re on a mission to set fruit and produce seeds before the season ends. It’s well known that crops such as zucchini, cucumbers, and green beans will slow their production once they have fruit and seeds nearing maturity. The best way to keep these plants productive is to harvest often and regularly. Have a summer trip planned? Get a neighbor to harvest while you’re gone and return to plants still in full swing.

2. Have No Compassion

Vegetables have a finite life span, and unfortunately, sometimes it’s shorter than anticipated. This can be due to pest or disease problems, or sometimes you just have a planting that never established well due to poor seed quality, low soil fertility, or unfavorable weather conditions. And of course, there are just some crops that quickly get past their prime once the heat sets in. But no matter the reason, nursing those crops will rarely bring the bountiful harvest you were hoping for. The best use of these plants is as food for your compost pile! So don’t be afraid to just rip them out of the garden, which has the added benefit of freeing up new space. See tip number 3.

3. Keep Planting

Don’t let the heat fool you…it’s still a good time to plant. Crops such as radishes, arugula, and Chinese broccoli can be sown repeatedly through the summer to keep a steady supply of young, tasty vegetables coming into the kitchen. And crisp fall crops, such as carrots, beets, and rutabagas need to be started soon, too. Try to sow seeds just before a rain, or make sure to stay on top of watering until all of the seeds have germinated.

4. Keep Weeding

Because your garden vegetables are established and growing vigorously this time of year, they now have the competitive advantage over any recently germinated weeds. Letting the weeds get away from you now likely won’t impact the productivity of your vegetables this year, but it will cause more problems for you later — if you let them drop seeds. The easiest way to keep a garden productive (think ahead to future years…) is to simply stay on top of the weeds all summer long.

5. Harvest Early

If you’re taking the time to keep your garden productive all summer long, harvesting early (in the morning) will get you the best return for your work. There are all sorts of post-harvest methods to quickly get the “field-heat” out of summer harvests, but the easiest is to simply avoid harvesting when it’s hot. Vegetables harvested in the morning and brought inside quickly will stay fresher much longer than those harvested in the heat of the day.

So What Now? Best Bets for June Sowing

Planting too early in the spring is one of the most common garden mistakes. But this time of year a different misconception among new gardeners is equally unfruitful: Not planting because they think it’s too late. Whether you’re just getting your first seeds in the ground, or you’re starting the process of succession planting, June is still a great time to sow seeds.

Best crops for direct-seeding during the month of June:

  • radishes
  • lettuce
  • beans
  • cucumbers
  • basil
  • cilantro
  • Swiss chard
  • zucchini

 

Radish_3371103037_4ab07db0bf_oMake sure that the crops you sow now will give you plenty to harvest by checking the days to maturity listed for the variety. All of the crops listed above grow well through the summer months, mature quickly, and will offer a good harvest even if planted later this month. Not surprisingly, most of them are considered warm-season crops, but even some cool-season crops, including lettuce and radishes, can still do well when grown throughout the summer. You’ll have the most success with these by paying attention to irrigation, planting in a corner of the garden that gets some afternoon shade, or by harvesting when plants are slightly under full size. Summer lettuces can be harvested as baby greens instead of mature heads to help ensure that the leaves remain tender and without bitterness.

 

October Garden To Do List

Your garden may look dormant once your fall harvest is over, but there are things you can do now to make sure that your garden keeps working for you well into the fall and winter.

NovemberGarden3

Plant and Maintain Crops

Root vegetables (carrots, garlic, horseradish, leeks, parsnips, radishes, beets, turnips, rutabagas and Jerusalem artichokes) can stay in the ground covered with a heavy layer of mulch or straw. Mark the rows with tall stakes so you can find them in the snow.

Cut back canes of fall-bearing raspberries to about ground level and water the area during extended dry spells over the winter. Remove only older, thick canes of summer.

Fall is a good time to plant blueberry bushes.

Planting_Garlic_Cloves_largeAbout a month before the frost is in the ground, plant garlic. Plant your biggest and best garlic cloves from this year’s harvest in a sunny spot about 3 inches deep, 6 inches apart with about 12 inches between rows. Mulch the garlic bed. It is normal to see some green growth in the fall.

You can even use your garden as a root cellar, of sorts. If you have cabbage in the garden that you would like to save for the winter months, dig it up now with the roots attached; then dig a hole and put it in, head-first, and bury it with the root sticking out. You might want to also mark the spot with a tall stake to find it in the snow. When you will dig it up, remove the outside leaves and find a perfect cabbage inside. Potatoes and carrots can also be dug now and preserved with a mound of straw and dirt above them.

Prevent Disease and Weeds and Prepare Soil

Vegetable_garden_at_Hill_Top_in_October_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1006399Pull up tomato, squash, pea and bean plants. If they are disease-free then you can compost them.

Remove all weeds and debris where insects and disease could hide over the winter.

In the areas where you have not mulched over root crops, dig up and work the soil. If you plan to plant an early crop of strawberries, asparagus or raspberries, doing the tilling and soil preparation now means that you will be ready to plant in early spring.

Once most of the garden soil is exposed, add a layer of compost, leaves, manure, and lime (if you need it based on a soil pH test). Gently till these into the soil. Soil micro-organisms and beneficial soil insects will help incorporate these materials into the soil before the ground freezes and in the spring after it thaws.

cover crop - ryeAnother option is to sow cover crops which will add nutrients, prevent erosion, and reduce weeds. In the spring you just turn the crop right into the soil. See this Cornell Cooperative Extension article to help decide which cover crop is right for your garden.

If some areas of your garden have hopelessly gone to weeds, deadhead the weeds (and put their seeds far, far away), then cover area with newspaper and a layer of compost and leave it in place over the winter into the spring.

Use Your Leaves

leaf compostUse your chopped leaves as mulch. Run over your leaves with the lawnmower and create a leaf-only compost pile. They make great mulch on flower beds or vegetable gardens, or can be turned into beds to add organic matter in the spring.

Leaves also make great “brown” addition to your regular compost pile. The compost recipe is “two-parts brown and one-part green.” Kitchen waste, grass and still-green plants provide the “green” component. Click here for more on composting.

The easiest thing to do on your lawn is to Leave Leaves Alone! Just mow them right on your lawn and leave them there to break down and add nutrients to your soil.

Pot Some Herbs

Bring them in! Pot your parsley and chives and use fresh herbs all winter.

Protect Your Equipment

  • ProperStoreNCareClean and sharpen garden tools before putting them away
  • Bring in tomato cages or stakes that you can use again next year
  • Bring in weather-vulnerable pots or garden statues
  • Disconnect the hose, drain it, and store it with your garden tools.
  • Clear out your irrigation system and shut down for winter
  • Make fence repairs and trim branches that might fall on existing fences over the winter.

Enjoy the fall!

pumpkins

Planting for Pollinators

What do apples, almonds, blueberries, citrus, melons, pears, plums, pumpkins, and squash have in common? They all need pollinators.

Most gardeners are familiar with the important role that bees and other pollinators play in fertilization of plants in their garden. Pollinators transfer pollen from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant and starting the process of fruit and seed production. Good pollination results in hearty fruits with viable seeds. Pollinators are so important that growers often rent honeybee hives to ensure that they will have a successful harvest.

Unfortunately bee populations are declining. While there are many factors, it is thought that habitat loss, disease, bee parasites, and inappropriate and excessive pesticide use contribute to the loss of pollinators.

Photo by Karen Sabath, local beekeeper

Photo by Karen Sabath, local beekeeper

How Gardeners Can Help

You know how much pollinators do for your garden, now you can do something for the pollinators. In addition to eliminating use of chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides on your lawn and in your gardens, you can also plant for pollinators by following these tips.

CHOOSE VARIETY

  • Choose a variety of plants that will provide blooms from early spring to late fall.
  • Choose plants of various heights, colors, shapes and sizes to attract different pollinators.
  • Choose colors that bees love: blue, purple, and yellow:
    • Flat or shallow blossoms, such as daisies, zinnias, asters, Queen Anne’s lace, will attract the largest variety of bees.
    • Long-tongued bees will be attracted to plants in the mint family such as nepeta, salvia, oregano, mint and lavender.
    • Long-tongued bumblebees are attracted to flowers with hidden nectar spurs such as larkspur, monkshood, monarda, columbine and snapdragons.

CHOOSE NATIVE

  • Plant wildflowers and native species. According to the Penn State Center for Pollinator Research, bees are four times more attracted to native plants than non-native plants. Find what you are looking for at the Native Plant Sale at Rosedale Nurseries (to benefit the Native Plant Center), September 12 & 13.
  • Avoid double blooms. Modern hybrid flowers that have been modified to produce large, double blooms have less nectar and pollen than flowers with one ring of petals.
Enjoy your beautiful flowers and the pollinators in your garden!

Enjoy your beautiful flowers and the pollinators in your garden!

MAKE IT EASY FOR POLLINATORS TO THRIVE

  • Plant big patches of each plant species.
  • Include plants that feed caterpillars.
  • Create habitat by leaving dead wood, piles of dry grasses and sticks, a muddy area, or uncovered ground areas free of weed mesh or heavy mulch.
  • Consider backyard beekeeping.

DON’T KILL POLLINATORS WITH PESTICIDES AND CHEMICALS

Limit or eliminate your use of pesticides and chemicals in your yard, they will kill pollinators. Click here to take the Pledge to limit pesticide use on your property.

Queen bee in the hive, photo by Karen Sabath

Queen bee in the hive, photo by Karen Sabath

Resources and Links

Hudson Valley Natural Beekeepers is our local beekeeping group, founded by four local beekeepers and is open to anyone interested in pollinators (you don’t have to be a beekeeper!). In addition to meetings, they have a website with great information and resources.  In particular see: Hudson Valley Natural Beekeepers 10 Things to Help Bees .

This fantastic eco-regional guide produced by the Pollinator Partnership is a great resource when planning a pollinator garden in our area: Selecting Plants for Pollinators: A Regional Guide for Farmers, Land Managers and Gardeners in the Eastern Broadleaf Forest (Oceanic Province).

Beekeeping Classes and more:

Honeybeelives.org, Chris Harp and Grai St. Clair Rice, in New Paltz

Hudson Valley Bee Supply, Kingston, NY, for classes, supplies and their local honey

Bedford Beekeeper for classes and beekeeping, DJ Haverkamp

Other resources:

Honeybee Plant List for the Northeast

Native plant database

Pollinators For Your Garden Webinar

Keep it simple: 5 Early Season Plants Which Attract Pollinators to Your Garden 

My neighbor's beehive surrounded by lovely plants for pollinators

My neighbor’s beehive surrounded by lovely plants for pollinators

Plant Now for a Fall Harvest

Regardless of whether you are in the midst of harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers and beans galore, or whether you never got around to planting anything this year (or you’re somewhere in between), now is a great time to plant for a fall harvest!

1vegout8.15

Fall harvest of parsley, kale and rainbow chard from my garden last year.

 

Many of the same plants that thrive in springtime can be planted now to harvest in the fall. As an added bonus, plants such as kale and carrots are often sweeter when grown in the fall than they are when grown in the spring.

Choose seeds that thrive in cool weather and require a short period of time until they reach maturity, such as lettuce, kale, beets and chard. For more suggestions on what to plant, take a look at the Hudson Valley Seed Library’s “Sow What” page . The Hudson Valley Seed Library is a good source of heirloom and open pollinated seeds. Since Bedford (plant hardiness zone 6) is slightly warmer than Accord, NY (zone 5a) where the Hudson Valley Seed Library is located, starting seeds one week after the date listed on the Hudson Valley seed starting chart would be ideal here. According to the list, recommended seeds to start now include: Arugula, Beets, Bok Choy, Carrots, Chinese Cabbage, Komatsuna, Lettuce, Mibuna/Mizuna, Mustard Greens, Swiss Chard, Tatsoi and Turnips.

If you happen to have an empty garden bed, fall planting is easy. If not, you can create a new garden bed by placing cardboard or newspaper directly on top of a section of lawn, and covering it with compost. (See the end of this blog post for pictures and further explanation.)

No empty planting bed or new area available?   Try planting seeds in between and underneath your summer plants. If you grow strawberries, sprinkle some lettuce seeds around them. The strawberry leaves will provide shade, cooling the soil and helping to create a cooler, moister microenvironment in which the lettuce seedlings will thrive.

2vegout8.15

Here is a photo of my strawberries underplanted with lettuce.

Another way to squeeze in more plants for a fall harvest is to mix them with your ornamentals. Some plants are not only edible, but also fun to display. Planting rainbow chard together with sweet alyssum along a front path is both playful and easy to harvest. Read more about this from Tenth Acre Farm here.

Without extra protection, even the hardiest of cool weather plants will usually succumb to the cold by December in our area. Last year I had some parsley that my family enjoyed harvesting through December, but then it finally wilted.

It is possible to extend the gardening season into the winter months by covering your gardens to insulate them from the cold.   While many different materials ranging from old sheets and blankets to clear plastic can protect your garden against the cold, some newer materials such as polypropylene fabric row covers are permeable to light and air allowing winter gardens to flourish beneath the snow. This wonderful blog post by Mother of a Hubbard shows how fabric row covers were used to keep a school garden viable all winter long. Benefits of winter gardening include no pests, no watering, and almost no maintenance other than harvesting!

So, go find your seeds, buy some new ones, or acquire some from a friend or neighbor, and plant a few. You’ll be happy you did in a couple of months when you’re eating homegrown produce in the fall!