By Nancy Mattia, CTW Features
When summer is on its way out, there’s no reason to think it’s time to retire your vegetable garden until spring returns. In fact, there’s plenty of gardening still to do, this time featuring cold-weather vegetables like spinach, broccoli and arugula. And just as timing plays a big role when planting your spring and summer garden, it’s important to consult the calendar before throwing any seeds or seedlings into the ground for your fall garden. To live the farm-to-table concept nearly year-round, take a look below at what you need to know to produce a healthy vegetable bounty this fall:
When to plant
To get the best results, plant your crops in accordance with your area’s frost dates; use an online calculator like the one offered by the Old Farmer’s Almanac to find out when the last frost is expected in your area.
Which plants to grow
The top choices for fall planning are a mix of hardy and leafy. Think vegetable stews, soups, salads and side dishes for your fall lunch and dinner menus. Choose from Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, and celery. Leafy vegetables you’ll see more of in the fall are spinach, lettuce, arugula, collards, kale, mustard greens and Swiss chard. Other vegetables that thrive in cooler temperatures: beets, radishes and turnips.
Have the right tools on hand If you discovered your rake is bent or your watering can is rusty, replace them and any other unworkable equipment now before planting season starts. You’ll also need: a garden shovel, hoe, cultivating tool like a tined digger to lightly loosen the soil and remove weed seedlings and a garden hose (or watering can). Also consider whether you also need soil or fertilizer, compost or mulch.
Consult local experts
When you’re buying needed materials at your local garden-supply store, it’s the perfect time to ask the store’s experts any questions you may have. They can tell you which vegetables grow best in your area, how often to water and lots more.
How to get soil ready
If you’ve got a garden with raised beds, you’ll need to refresh their soil to keep it productive, according to the Illinois Extension, the state’s gardening experts. All you need to do is top-off the existing soil with compost annually. As for laying down mulch, the Almanac says it’s worth doing in the fall. While mulching in the spring and summer locks in moisture in a garden, suppresses weeds and feeds the soil, in colder months it protects bare soil, prevents soil erosion and protects plants.
How much sun and water
Your garden needs lots of sunlight—six to eight hours daily would be ideal. Give plenty of water to your plants too so that the soil never dries up and retains moisture.