Our growing season is short, and there are many things that we can’t grow because of it. To plant a real winter garden, like growers do in the south, might not be possible, but don’t give it up altogether. A lot more is possible than you might think. What about planting a fall garden or growing an indoor garden in a northern climate?
There is the Four Season Farm in Maine, owned and operated by writers Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman. The farm produces vegetables year round. Eliot Coleman developed amazing techniques for a fall, and even winter, harvest. In his book The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production he describes how he does it. A good read for anyone who wants more than just one crop.
We are far more north than the Four Season Farm is, our winter days are too short for winter harvest. But we too can grow more than just one crop. The Jungle Farm, just north of us, plants spinach out in the open fields at least three times a year. In April, June, and in the fall, protected with some straw for an early spring crop.
The Markerville Berry & Vegetable U-Pick Farm is another inspiring example. They sow some lettuce, spinach, romaine, radishes, and onions right till September to have a constant fresh supply. So you see, we can grow some crops at least twice.
Things to think about when planting a fall garden
1. How long of a season is left? What will still mature before the frost hits the ground? If 30 days are left, you can still grow things that will mature in 30 days. A seed package tells you the days to maturity.
2. How hardy is the plant you are planting? It is good to go with plants that do not mind a bit of a frost for the fall crop. Plants react very differently to frost. For example, spinach can stand, with some protection, up to -10c. That means we can grow spinach much longer than tomatoes that do not tolerate any frost.
3. What can be grown indoors even in the death of winter? Here are 21 plants to grow year-round – regardless of climate.
When to plant what for a fall garden
The All New Square Foot Gardening book has planting schedules for continuous harvest and fall crops. It is a good plan to go by. However, when space is limited, I simply plant whenever a spot becomes available.
Spinach, garlic, and shallots can also be planted in the fall for an early spring start. We plant spinach as early as we have space, if possible in August or early September. This way we might get a fall crop out of the plants before winter, but we do make sure the plants are established and can continue to grow in spring. We plant garlic in mid September.
Fall is also the time to start thinking about the winter garden indoors. We grow food in the winter indoors and need to start planting in the summer. Most seeds need about a month to become a good seedling. In the summer, our Tower Gardens are outdoors, but in a good month they will be done and we can replant them indoors.
How to plant a fall garden
Preparing the garden for a second crop will not be the same as it is in spring. If you wait till all the crops are done and you can properly rototiller the garden, it might be too late for planting anything. Use the little spots that become available.
Since it is warm and most likely dry, make sure the ground is moist before planting the seeds. Bigger seeds are good to sprout first so they germinate faster.
In our garden I planted some spinach, radish, and an early variety of peas. I might plant some more greens later. As always in a northern garden it’s all about trying it out. You never know, it might just be a great year for another crop, why not plant one.
What are you growing in your fall garden?
Inspiring books for winter gardening: