Food for Thought: Fall Plantings

Gardening, much like all things in life, is all about perspective. The fun part is how that perspective changes throughout one’s gardening journey. In my case, one aspect of my gardening perspective that has changed dramatically over the last five years is how I view succession planting. Specifically, planting in late summer for a fall harvest.

When we moved to Maryland (zone 7a) I was thrilled to find that we have a very long growing season. Realistically, with the appropriate equipment, we can garden all year long. But, even without greenhouses or grow boxes, we can easily garden from early March through Thanksgiving. Adopting the idea of an early spring harvest followed by planting warm weather veggies to enjoy throughout the summer months was easy. I’d plant cold tolerant crops such as onions, lettuce and carrots. Then, upon harvesting, I’d replace them with heat lovers like tomatoes, squash and peppers. The part I didn’t seem to grasp initially was that there was still a third crop to plant. In my mind, fall veggies seemed like extras.

After a couple years I found myself becoming more aware of the empty soil that appeared after things like cucumbers, melons and beans had become exhausted. So, I started just throwing seeds in the ground and hoping for the best without any expectations. No soil prep, no attention to watering, just a bonus crop if Mother Nature was feeling generous. This was foolish. I have since learned that fall is THE TIME to plant root vegetables. Sure, they grow well in the spring but they are less fibrous and extra sweet when grown in the fall and left in the ground through a hard frost or two. Not to mention, you don’t have to worry about heat induced bolting. In other words, I was completely missing out on the best time of the year for crops like carrots, parsnips, turnips and beets. Epic fail!

This year I was ready. I gave my soil a boost, planned my garden design to intentionally incorporate a full autumn planting and maintained a regular watering schedule. It seems to be paying off BIG TIME. I have three varieties of carrots in the ground, two varieties of turnips, the healthiest beets I’ve ever grown, and peas and lettuce all coming on strong. For the first time in my Mid-Atlantic gardening experience I haven’t wasted the entire fall season, and as a result I’ll be making garden fresh turnip soup next weekend and freezing homegrown veggies for the next two months.

Lesson learned — fall is NOT just the extra harvest, it has the potential to be the BEST harvest. I encourage you to learn from my mistake and take full advantage of this opportunity to squirrel away as many delicious vegetables as possible. You won’t be disappointed. Cheers, friends!

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