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Fall gardening is every motivated gardener’s last hurrah before winter hits. This weekend for me, it’s time to finish up the garden. I have decided that my ground isn’t very fertile, so I’m planning a
cover crop. I also want that cover crop to be useful in the short-term as well. I have lots of animals to feed, so I want to grow some things that I can feed them with also, to lower the feed bill. This is my first fall garden, so I only hope that I’m not getting started too late. Our first frost (we’re in zone 7a) is just around the corner!
I ordered oats, Austrian Winter Peas, beets, and turnips from Baker Creek Seed Company, and they sent me a package of purple carrots as well. We get very intensely hot, dry summers, so there are a few things that we can’t grow very well in the heat of summer. They do better in the spring or fall garden.
Here are some things to consider putting in a fall garden. Be sure to check your hardiness zone so you know they willwork for your particular weather. If you don’t know what your hardiness zone is, you can check it HERE.
1. Cover crops.
Cover crops are crops that you plant to cover the soil. They protect the soil from erosion and aid in weed control. Then when they die off, you either till them into the soil or “chop and drop”, or mow the plants down and leave them as mulch. Normally they have nutrient-fixing properties or help break up hard ground so they benefit the soil.
Peas, clover, and beans are nitrogen-fixing. They have nodules of nitrogen on their roots, and these transfer back into the soil as the plant decomposes.
b. Grasses and grains.
Grasses like oats, wheat, and rye prevent the soil from erosion and compaction.
They have long roots that break up and aerate the soil.
Most of these can also be used to feed your animals as well. Winter peas, like what I’m going to grow, have peas and
greens that animals love. Oats and wheat produce grains that you can thresh to give to your animals as well. You could also put animals like pigs or chickens in the garden when your cover crops are winding down, so they can clear it up for you some. They will also help themselves to any leftover goodies, as well as deposit some of their own “fertilizer” in the garden. Again, this will help when you till the plants into the soil, or chop and drop.
Brassicas, like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli do much better in the cooler weather than in the heat of the summer. These should be planted in the spring or fall in order to keep them from bolting (going to seed). Just make sure you have enough time for them to mature before winter really hits. Fall gardening brassicas will help give you food into the fall months, and also supplement as animal feed as well, when the veggies aren’t “pretty” enough for human consumption.
3. Root vegetables.
Lots of root vegetables, like carrots, turnips, radishes, and beets, do very well in the cooler weather. They actually get sweeter after a light frost, and it doesn’t seem to bother them as much if the leaves get a little frost damage. Above-ground plants, in comparison, usually die at the first hint of frost.
For example, with tomatoes, if you plant them just a little too early and they get a light frost at the end of spring, you will usually have to replace those plants. That happened to me this year. Root vegetables give plenty of greens to give to your animals (or eat yourself!), and they may even like the veggies too!
4. Leafy greens.
As long as you choose a fast-growing variety, lettuce and spinach are great choices for the fall garden. These also tend to bolt and get bitter in hot weather, so the cooler weather is just better for them. Kale and collards taste much better after they get a little frost. Kale really likes cold weather, and is very tolerant of it. Mustard greens and arugula grow fast but die in hard frosts. I’m going to have to grow some of these greens for my rabbits this year.
5. Onions and garlic.
Onions are very cold hardy, especially if you mulch around them. You can still harvest them in winter, even under snow, as long as they are not frozen solid into the ground. And garlic needs nearly a full year to grow, so it has to over-winter with a thick mulch. Both onions and garlic are used both in cooking and in medicinal home remedies, so are great to grow.
Fall gardening can be a very beneficial, last-ditch effort to get some good food growing. Although I’m sure you’re tired from the summer garden and all the accompanying summer chores, I hope you’ll take advantage of this last little bit of decent weather before winter hits.