Fall Garden

We live in gardening zone 6 (6a if you want to be really anal about it). According to most seed companies and so-called gardening 'experts,' this means that we should not be able to plant anything before last frost date (generally assumed to be March 30-April 30) and we should not be able to grow anything after the first frost date (generally assumed to occur prior to October 30). Most people I know in this area agree with this, and even farmer's markets in our area typically start in late May and fizzle out by October.

However, with just a little extra effort and adjustment, crops can continue to thrive beyond those windows of time. This is a picture of my fall garden, taken yesterday (November 26):

I have two beds this size - roughly 8 feet long by 4 feet wide and 6 inches deep. Aside from the hollyhock you see in the bottom right, I planted these as seeds in late September, after my summer vegetables (tomato, eggplant, cucumber) had pretty much stopped producing.
These are yellow carrots (tops) - creme de lite.

Spinach. Oh such tender leaves!

Beet greens. I doubt the garden will survive long enough to produce any actual beets, but beet greens are delicious. 

Some more spinach. I have two varieties, but I forget which is which.

Rainbow chard, which I got really cheap on sale here

So, how to extend the growing season? First of all, by planting in raised beds, the soil temperature stays a few degrees warmer than planting directly in-ground. 

You also  have to be sure to start your seeds (or seedlings) when temperatures are warm enough to germinate, but not so hot that tender plants (such as spinach) will be killed by the occasional hot day that we still get here into October. But there are ways of avoiding that too - tender young plants can be shielded from sun during the hottest parts of the day (laundry basket turned upside down is great for this) and watering early in the morning ensures there will be no water droplets sitting on foliage during the bright sun hours (water droplets on foliage act as magnifying glasses and can burn in direct sun). 

Then, there is cold to contend with, obviously. Choose cold-hardy varieties (such as those I've selected) of vegetables. And watch your weather forecast carefully. If I see the overnight low is going to dip below 35 degrees, I will cover them with floating row cover. If I see it will dip below 32-ish, I will also cover them with cotton bed sheets. Before covering them, water the garden thoroughly. It seems counter-intuitive to me (being wet makes me feel colder!), but it works by increasing evaporation and also ice that does form will form on the outside of foliage first, protecting the plant inside. It's all a careful balancing act!

Remove the coverings in the morning and try to place your garden beds where they will receive as much sun as possible during fall and winter (I know in my yard, the sun being farther south does affect how much sun the beds get as there is a tree on the south side of my garden beds, and they are shaded for part of the day in fall, where in summer, they are in full sun all day).

So that's my season-extension advice. I hope to keep them in ground this week at least (through Dec 1 is my goal) - longer if possible. In early spring I'll post about season extension in the opposite direction - starting early! Nothing beats the winter blues away like budding green edibles.


  1. OOOH! Thanks for great advice!I want to have a vegetable garden next spring. I've never done one so I'll definitely be interested in hearing how to get started early.

  2. Just beautiful. But where are your ugly parsnips? J/K. How do you get your spinach so nice? Mine is always just not great, or it's great, but only a couple plants survive and the others die. I have it in mini raised beds.

  3. Jean I'm not a big purveyor of parsnip. ;)
    I planted the spinach really close together (another tip about early or late growing I forgot to mention - you can really clump the seeds together) and maybe the seed quality was something to do with it? I've had great success with spinach seeds from Johnny's.
    If it ever stops raining I am going to see if I have anything left. If I find a worthwhile quantity, I'll bring some by.


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