Growing vegetables in the fall is a great way to enjoy wonderful fall weather and supply your family with healthy homegrown food. Most vegetables that grow in the spring garden will do well in the fall. In fact, the cooler weather can improve the appearance and taste of home grown vegetables making them taste much sweeter. If you like to store, dry, freeze or can vegetables, the fall garden gives you another chance to stock your shelves before winter.
Spring gardening is popular because it is the first chance to get outside after winter. Spring vegetables are fast to mature and pest populations are low. But as the weather warms, working outside becomes more unpleasant, and many spring gardens are abandoned until the next spring.
For a productive fall garden, preparation begins in the heat of the summer. But, as the gardening season progresses and the days get shorter, the weather begins to cool. The cooler weather actually makes gardens more productive than in the spring because plants can use moisture and nutrients more effectively for fruiting and leaf production.
The type of vegetables to grow in the fall garden depends on your location. For example, in the southern US, heirloom tomatoes with maturity dates as long as 75 days can be grown if planted in July while in northern locations a variety such as Early Girl that needs only 60 days from planting to fruit set is appropriate. Because of the threat of early frost, planting the faster maturing varieties of most vegetables will provide a good early crop.
Your local county extension office will have recommendations for the specific type of vegetable to grow in the fall garden and maturity dates.
Fall vegetable gardens supply fresh vegetables as well as provide a source of exercise for the gardener. Just looking at a beautiful garden can make you feel good. Another benefit of a fall garden is that you have control over what chemicals and fertilizers are used on your food. You can get the family involved and make the fall garden a family project. Kids are more likely to eat vegetables if they help grow them.
Because a fall garden is growing under the threat of an early frost, be aware of when your average frost date is according to the United States average frost date map. Your local county agricultural extension office is another place to look for average frost date information.
All vegetable seed packages or descriptions give you the number of days from planting to maturity. Count back from the first average frost date and add 10 days. For example, if the vegetable plant matures and produces fruit in 60 days, and your average frost date is November 25, then plant on September 15.
Warm season insects and diseases are well established once the fall gardening season begins. If possible, use a completely different site for the fall garden. If crop rotation is not feasible, remove all plant material and weeds left over from the spring garden. Till garden and allow the soil to bake in the summer sun for 4-6 weeks before planting fall vegetables.
Avoid early frost damage by using row cover supported by wire or small diameter flexible PVC pipes made into a series of loops over the garden row.
A few vegetable plants, such as onions, are sensitive to day length and cannot produce as the days shorten in the fall.
Other vegetable plants like okra really need hot weather to produce and cool weather in the fall will stunt the plants and affect production.
If direct seeding in the garden, plant seeds slightly deeper than recommended because there is less moisture in the top layer of soil.