Fall is For Eating

I hate to say it, but summer is over. Students are back, the air is cool and everyone is thinking about settling down into the slower routine of the winter months. Now is the time to revel in the special pleasures of Fall.

Our gardens are finally bursting with a beautiful harvest, begging to be eaten. As you pick and clean up some of your crops, consider a second (or third) planting of cold hardy vegetables to keep the harvest going or if you are feeling done, plant a winter cover crop to keep your soil safe in the hard months to come.

Fall Planting

Lots of vegetables are happy to be planted for a second round mid-August to mid-September. When picking out plants choose ones that don’t mind the cold, and that mature quickly, and of course make sure you like to eat it.

Our ripening sqash, getting too big for it's britches.

The first frost date here in Halifax is October 20th. That means you can pick plants according to how many weeks they need to mature and when you plant them, by counting backwards from this date. And if you build a cold frame, you can stretch the frost free time even longer.

Baby kale, one week old.

Here are some great veggies to put in your garden right now with approximately how many weeks they take to mature. All of them are frost tolerant and like the cooler temperatures, those that are extremely frost tolerant are labeled so.

  • Arugula (4 weeks) very frost tolerant.
  • Mache ( 4 weeks) very frost tolerant
  • Kale (5 weeks) very frost tolerant
  • Swiss Chard (9 weeks) very frost tolerant
  • Lettuce (7 weeks)
  • Mustard Greens (7 weeks)
  • Spinach (7 weeks)
  • Radish (4 weeks)
  • Smaller varieties of beets (7 weeks)
  • Short Carrots (8 weeks)
  • Kohlrabi (4 weeks)
  • Garlic (plant now to harvest next August)

Cover Crops

There is a saying that bare soil is wounded soil. As we prepare for winter don’t forget to give your garden a winter blanket to cozy down with. The best way to do this is planting a cover crop. If that doesn’t happen and your left at first snowfall with a bare garden, you can also cover your soil in a deep bed of straw, hay or fallen leaves.

Cover crops are also known as green manures and help protect and enrich the soil. They help prevent erosion and compaction over the harsh winter months, add organic matter to the soil, pull up nutrients in the soil, and improve the texture. Some cover crops are planted in the spring and are great at pulling nitrogen from deep within the soil, these are great for preparing the soil in new gardens, or repairing soil. Other cover crops are planted now (between August and October) and can be used in between vegetable gardening seasons.

A fresh planting of winter rye at the Ecology Action Centre.

My favorite cover crop in winter rye. It’s easy to plant, beautiful and hardy. I hear that some other great winter cover crops to use are:

  • Annual vetch
  • Winter wheat
  • Spring oats
  • Spring Barley
  • Annual ryegrass

You can plant these crops after you clear out a patch in your garden, give them some water until the plants are established and then let them grow through the winter and early spring.  2-4 weeks before you are ready to start gardening again, cut the cover crop down and add the materials to your compost pile, or turn it under in the garden bed. It can take some time to figure out how cover crops can fit into your gardening routine, but it is always well worth the effort.

A triple mix cover crop with some mustard greens and arugula in the mix.

I hope you enjoy these loops and cycles of the garden, letting us know that with a bit of thought and preparation we will be okay this coming winter, as always.

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