I’m very insecure about my fall gardening game.
Whenever I’ve had a good fall/winter garden, it’s been largely by accident.
Yay! I’m eating spinach in December!
How did that happen?
The trouble with accidental success is that it’s very hard to recreate.
I often think what I really needed to become a confident gardener was a lifetime of watching my grandparents garden, taking detailed notes. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Books, videos, classes, etc., are good, but not the same as watching someone, in your own climate and soil, actually DO the season by season routines of preparing, planting, and maintaining a garden, watching the complex dance of succession, timing, selection, and procedure that goes into getting the most out of a garden plot.
It’s something most of us, except a lucky few, have missed out on. I think that’s why here we are, on the internet, reading, cribbing, watching YouTubers show us their successes.
Ha. The internet is my grandpa.
I recently watched about eight videos of people digging their sweet potatoes. I could watch that all day long, ripping the vines away, reaching in, pulling out gorgeous, fat, golden roots.
Gardening is mysterious to most of us, a lost art, and fall gardening especially so, I think.
For one thing, you have to start in the summer, about the time you’re sort of tired of gardening, unlike spring, when we’re busting out all over.
It’s so hot, and there are already crops taking up all or most of the space, faded or beginning to fade. Are those tomato plants finished or are they going to put out a second crop? Is the basil done? Those zinnias are taking up so much room, but they’re pretty and the butterflies love them.
How should I renew the soil to replace lost nutrients? When and what to plant? Sowing seeds or planting starts? Bugs? Heat?
Do I need shade cloth over my lettuce? My . . . theoretical fall lettuce?
What I’ve decided to do right now is rip out (some) of my summer garden and amend the soil. It’s tough pulling out huge stands of lemon basil that have bolted and bittered, because I keep thinking I can hack them back and get more tender growth out of them, but the truth is they will just bolt again immediately, and their time is past. Tough cookies, basil.
I’m also ripping out some strawberry plants that are taking over my vegetable beds. Sure, I could dig them up and replant them, but in this heat they would fry up and wither away in two days. And I have about two hundred other strawberry plants that are not in my vegetable bed and they’re sending out runners like crazy. I can pull the ones that are in the way.
For the newly empty beds I’m stirring up a blend of compost, sand, and decomposing wood chips, with a soupçon of organic fertilizer, bunny and chicken poo and a dusting of greensand. I’m spreading it out over the tops of these beds and mulching the paths with straw.
All ready to go, but the what and when is the next question.
I went to this website, clicked on the Fall Vegetable Schedule Calculator, plugged in my frost dates, and got a handy printout of what to plant, when.
On the list: onions, carrots, beets, lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, radishes, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower and collards.
I’ve had terrible luck with cauliflower in the past, so I don’t think I’m going to do that again. I’ve had mixed results with broccoli–should I give it another go? Maybe I planted them at the wrong time?
I wrote all the planting dates on my calendar, so I’m ready in theory. I’ve missed the window to start my own cabbages, broccoli, and collards from seed, according to the calendars, so I’ll have to wait until they start showing up in the nurseries and garden centers. I think that will probably be mid-August to early September. Meanwhile, I can plant carrots and lettuce, etc., from seed. At the proper time, of course.
Maybe by the time I’m a grandma I’ll be a more confident gardener. I’d better hurry up.
This is going to take a while.
Are you planting a fall garden? What are your fall favorites? Any secrets or fall success tips you’d like to share?