The Fall Garden – Planting in The “Second Spring”

I used to think of fall as a time for things to start winding down in the garden — time to start cleaning up and putting the beds to rest.  This year, however, I’m realizing that it’s a time to start anew — time for an (almost) second spring!   With cooler temperatures and the right varieties, I’m hoping my garden experiences a resurgence of life that’ll supply our family with a bounty of colors and flavors right up until (and perhaps even beyond) the first winter frost.

I’m not following a prescribed fall garden plan.  Some of the veggies are standard faire for seeding at this time of year, but not all of them.  While it’s common, at this time, to plant cool weather crops, like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, I want to experiment with starting the seeds of summer squash, cucumbers, and a few melons, where the recommended planting date is “after the last frost, when the ground has warmed”, but whose “days to harvest” fall within the boundaries of our first frost date.  I’m really curious to know just how far I can stretch out succession planting when it comes to these more spring-friendly fruits.

One of the great things about sowing directly into the soil at this time of year is that the ground is really warm, so it speeds up germination, and things grow much quicker than they do in the spring.  We’re already harvesting from the lettuce and pea seeds that I planted just a few weeks ago.  According to the Vegetable Planting Guide for the San Joaquin Valley, the optimum time to sow lettuce seeds is in late August, and the best time for planting pea seeds is in late October.  With consistent, daily watering we’re already weeks ahead of schedule!

Cilantro prefers a fall planting time, which works out great for combining with late season tomatoes.  Salsa anyone?

And, speaking of tomatoes, I wonder if this short-season variety will start producing before old man winter visits the garden this year?

In addition to lettuce, I like to eat baby beet greens in my salads, like these that we’re enjoying right now.  The tops can be cut, while leaving the root in the ground to develop.  Beets are one of those veggies that can be planted in the spring or fall.  Although their preferred planting time is in February, they can also be planted in August and September for an early winter harvest.

And, what’s a salad without carrots?  August and September are the ideal time for sowing their seeds, which can be harvested throughout the winter, right up until the time of their first spring planting.

Fall is also the perfect time for planting Asian greens.  I love these baby bok choys.  Aren’t they just so cute?

And, it’s the perfect season for getting some arugula seed into the ground.  My spring plantings are flowering and setting seed right now for me to collect and re- sow.  I love this plant for its pungent leaves and showy flowers.  When the long, hot days of summer force it to bolt, I don’t mind letting it flower — it brings lots of beneficial butterflies which naturally help with pest control.

Finally, while the seedlings haven’t emerged yet, I’ve also planted in the seeds of brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, chard, cucumbers, summer squash, and a few melons.  I’ll be making a few more plantings of lettuce, peas, carrots, parsnips, radishes, kohlrabi, and onions between now and October, too.  I may even try to get in another small planting of potatoes for an end-of-the-year harvest.

So, instead of dialing it down a notch as the garden heads into the early days of fall, I’m ramping it up, once again, to extend the harvest.  I’m amazed at what an integral role this fall garden is going to play in our lives this year!  With just a little more time and effort, I can already tell, the results are going to be well worth it.  This year’s harvest will be readily prolonged well into December, and possibly even January if all goes well.

I am so very thankful to live in an area with such a long growing season.  You can bet I’ll be utilizing every inch of prepared soil and frost-free day to push garden production to its maximum limit.  Oh, once its reached its end I’ll finally put it to bed, but not for very long.  It’s only a matter of a few, short, winter months before the first warm days of spring are on the horizon, and planting time begins all over again!


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