All last winter I dreamed of a lush, manicured garden in my new yard, with vegetable plants everywhere there was space. When March rolled around and the weather got slightly warmer, I started sneaking outside to pull weeds, bag up trash and begin preparing the ground for the garden. Sometimes I was by myself, slipping outside for an hour while my husband watched the baby; other times there was a squirmy infant on my back, bouncing up and down in her carrier, trying her hardest to throw her crouching mama off balance as she pulled up errant grass shoots.
I had varying levels of success with the garden this year. The two blueberry bushes I planted never had a chance, just dried up twigs sticking out of the ground no matter how well I tried to care for them. My cucumbers took off running, but instead of the straight, beautiful heirloom fruit they were meant to grow, they produced pale, prickly little globes that had visitors asking, “but what ARE those?” as though I had planted something utterly alien.
My zucchini plants produced 6-8 nice squash, and my green and yellow beans (on the same bush, people. Green and yellow beans growing on the same bush like some sort of magic.) produced beautifully, yielding handfuls of beans each week that went into stir fries and rich vegetable soups. I even got a couple of japanese eggplant, despite the plants never really seeming to flourish. And the tomatoes. One plant each of 5 different varieties have made sure I always have tomatoes on hand.
Each evening from spring through summer I would slip outside to water the garden, paying special attention to the plants in planters, because they just dry out so easily. I have absolutely loved it. The satisfaction of seeing my plants grow day by day, then picking vegetables I had planted and cared for, cooking them and watching my baby gleefully devour them was indescribable.
Well, the dog days of summer came, and maybe some sort of garden blight as well, and my plants started to go. I did double duty weeding and sprayed them down with natural fungicides to no avail. The zucchini and cucumber plants shriveled up and the bean plants lost their leaves and had to be pulled out. Only my tomatoes still seem to be really holding steady, with the cherry tomato bush still heavily loaded with ripening fruit, which I truly appreciate given my daughter’s new found appetite for tomatoes.
So now what? I call it a day and wait for next spring, right?
Wrong! Are you ready for this?
It’s the beginning of September and I can plant another garden.
That’s right, in the north east where we have 4 distinct seasons and a very real winter coming in just a few months, I can plant a fall garden. And so can you, if you’re so inclined.
I first got an inkling that this was possible back in the spring when I discovered watermelon radishes. Unlike the mediocre little red balls you find bagged in the supermarket, the watermelon radishes I ordered from Farmigo were huge and sweet with a hint of pepper, super crunchy and beautiful – pale green on the outside and vibrant, deep pink within. Determined to have these on hand every day for the rest of forever, I went to order seeds. Hold on…must be grown in cool weather? Does best when fall planted? What does that mean?
Since then I’ve been keeping an eye out for cold-hardy plants, the ones that will survive into the fall and maybe even early winter. The kinds of plants that not only survive a chill, but may even benefit from it. It turns out that dark leafy greens like kale, collard greens, mustard greens and spinach tolerate cold well, and kale can even be improved by a little frost! Broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts are all from the same cold-tolerant family. Then there’s the roots: your beets, turnips and radishes, nestled safely and happily in the ground.
If you’re planning to plant a fall garden, just be sure to pay attention to the instructions for your seeds or plants. As always, different varieties have different needs and tolerances. It’s going to take some work to take out all the old plants and start planting again, but if all goes well, we can be picking fresh produce, about as local as it gets, well into November.
So while I’m by no means excited about the ends of my tomatoes or the last of my basil withering away, I am looking forward to throwing on a sweatshirt and boots and heading outside to harvest my swiss chard, watermelon radishes, kale and beets.
What about you? Are you thinking of planting a fall garden?