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!
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.
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!