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Layout for Planting a Fall Garden
Like we mentioned in the last post, you should orient your garden towards the south to get maximum sunlight. But that’s not the only way to make sure your plants get every ray. Also, place your tallest plants in the back/north, unless shade is needed.
While laying out your garden, also consider companion planting to create synergy. (For a good read on this topic, check out this Carrots Love Tomatoes book.) Some plants have positive or negative relationships with other plants. For example, basil, onions, and carrots grow well next to tomatoes. In contrast, some other plants don’t like onions, chives, or other plants in the same family.
Also remember that a crop doesn’t have to mature completely before winter. If it’s established before the winter, your crop will mature very, very early the following spring. We live at 2,700ft elevation in the mountains of southwest Virginia, and we have harvested kale and collard greens all winter long (even with snow on them). Sometimes, the cold makes those crops taste better. (The cold intensifies the sugars in carrots, turnips, and other root crops.)
Finally, ensure you have adequate access for harvesting your crops. Make sure you can actually reach into your bed to pull the carrots, for example, without killing other plants!
Varieties for Planting a Fall Garden
What will you eat? What you answer will determine what you should plant in your fall garden.
Don’t waste time and resources planting crops that you just don’t eat. For example, you may love a particular crop, but you just don’t eat very much of it or have trouble growing it in your climate.
Second, prefer heirloom varieties.
There is so much flavor and nutritional value in these varieties, and you will always be able to save these seeds and grow reliable results, unlike with hybrid seeds. (Remember, ALL of our seeds are heirloom! 😉 )
Third, optimize production for your space and climate.
Grow lots of salad crops–you can grow a LOT of greens in a small space. In addition to salad crops, plant other vegetables like peas or turnips that thrive in cooler temperatures.
And finally, consider maturation days vs. season length.
Like we mentioned in our previous post, realize that plant growth slows and you may get a better harvest if you plant a variety that requires less days to maturity. (Remember to add 2 weeks to normal maturity dates, to account for slowing growth.)
Variables for Planting a Fall Garden
Even if you’re planting a short-lived fall garden, don’t just plant a single time. Optimize your available space by planting again after you harvest the first crop from a space. This is a good method for salad greens. Plant a new crop every 2-3 weeks, and you’ll get a fresh harvest.
Also use transplanting to maximize production, even when the season is short. Plant radishes with a slow-growing crop, so you’re still harvesting something from that space, even while waiting for another crop to mature.
There are different degrees of frost protection that can extend harvesting into the winter. Permeable fabrics or plastic used on row covers and glass or plastic on cold frames protect vegetation from freezing. Just remember that they need ventilation during the day, or the plants may burn up! See the next post in our series for more on season extension methods.
Are you starting to feel the chilly air nipping at your plants? Even if you’ve already done everything you can do by laying out your garden, picking the right varieties, and using successive plantings, there’s just one more you can do. More about that in our next post.