Fall Vegetable Gardening Tips

As fall approaches, there’s still time to grow more veggies…

but your success will be more likely if you plant only frost-tolerant seedlings, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and lettuces.  They can take some frosty mornings and they relish cool fall nights. They withstand temps under 32ºF. These cool-season vegetables are often described as having a better quality or flavor when grown in the fall.

Before planting them, remove all previous crop residues and prepare the soil as you did in the spring. Working in the late afternoon or early evening to reduce the shock to the seedlings, plant them at the same depth they are growing in the container. Firm the soil around each plant and water thoroughly, or use a cupful of starter fertilizer solution (2 Tbsp. of a soluble, high-phosphorous fertilizer per 1 gallon of water) around each plant. Provide some light shade for the first few days while they become established.

Protecting frost-susceptible plants

Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, corn – the usual vegetables in summertime gardens  – are frost-susceptible, meaning they will be injured or killed by temperatures below 32ºF. Generally, this area of Connecticutdoesn’t have a serious frost until mid-October, but we should all listen to weather forecasts just to be on the safe side. Sometimes there will be an early frost, followed by a week or two of warm weather (“Indian summer”), so it’s definitely worthwhile to protect plants through that first frost.  Crockett’s Victory Garden advises: “If I have pumpkins or squashes outside, I cover them with a tarp. If a hard frost is predicted, I pick all the green tomatoes and ripen them inside, and I harvest whatever melons, beans, or cucumbers are ready, leaving the immature vegetables on the vine and covering the foliage with several layers of newspapers. Eggplant is fairly tolerant of light frost, and some crops, including all the root crops and most of the cabbage family, are actually improved by the arrival of cool weather.”

Wintertime vegetables

Did you know you can harvest some vegetables all winter long? For instance, kale, horseradish, and Brussels sprouts can be left in the garden, without any winter protection. For root crops, such as carrots, beets, and parsnips, cover with 6-8 inchesof organic mulch (e.g., hay, leaves, pine needles) after the first heavy frosts. Mark the row so you can dig them during the winter.

Clean up garden debris

Clean up all garden debris – weeds, leaves, stalks, old fruit. Do this job after the first killing frost. If you’re certain your garden was disease-free, you can put the debris in your compost pile or rototill directly into the soil. Otherwise, put the debris in plastic bags in your trash cans to be hauled away.

Make notes about this year’s garden

Before you forget the layout of this year’s garden, make notes and/or draw a map. You’ll want this to plan your crop rotation for next year – important to help control certain diseases. Many disease organisms attack only related plants in the same family, so if you rotate your crops you can sometimes avoid disease problems. There are the cabbage family (includes broccoli, radish, turnip), cucumber family (includes melon and squash), tomato family (includes peppers, eggplant and potatoes), and onion family.

Add organic matter to soil

Sow a cover (“green manure”) crop as soon as space is available in the garden. Cover crops reduce soil erosion, prevent nutrient losses, help suppress weeds, and add organic matter to the soil. They keep the garden looking neat, help insulate the soil, and encourage continued beneficial earthworm and soil microorganism activity.  Winter rye is a very popular fall cover crop. Sow 3-5 lbsof seed per1000 sq. ft. Scatter the seeds evenly over freshly cultivated soil, then till gently or rake the soil to lightly cover the seeds. In the spring you’ll rototill it in as soon as the soil is dry enough to work and begin planting several weeks later.

Clean garden tools

Clean hand tools to remove all dirt and rust, then sharpen and, if necessary, coat all exposed metal surfaces with oil to protect against moisture. Store in a dry, sheltered place. Wash and dry sprayers thoroughly. Drain all hoses, pipes, and valves. Check the manufacturer’s instructions on winterizing power equipment.