Fall can be one of most rewarding times to grow food—if you can get those crops in your fall garden through the final weeks of summer.
Some years are worse than others, but there are always at least a few big obstacles standing between the farmer and the bounty of the fall garden. Pests love the tender young greens. Heat and drought still linger through the later summer months. It’s not always easy.
With a few simple tricks, however, anyone can get a good fall garden growing, and for all the delicious and healthful goodies that grow in this season—from sweet turnips to crunchy kales—anyone should.
Here are five tips for establishing your fall garden.
1. Grow Only Healthy Transplants
Few actions you can take will make more of an impact in the success of a fall garden then growing healthy transplants. Transplants that are suffering when they go in will not recover as well or grow as vigorously. Also, it is essential to harden them off—that is, to keep them unprotected (yes, not protected)—from the sun for a few days (of course, well-watered). You can simply set them on a table outside in full sun, or build a specific place for them, but this hardening off will help adapt the young starts in a fall garden to any lingering summer sun.
2. Have Rich, Weed-Free Soil Available
It is a good idea to know during spring exactly where you’ll put your fall garden. This lets you start preparing that soil, getting the spring and summer weeds out, and fertilizing it as needed. One example of this might be growing a spring crop then cover-cropping until the fall to make sure all the weeds are out. Or, you might simply grow a few crops all the way until the fall starts go in, but simultaneously dedicate yourself to weed cultivation. I like this method of constantly having something growing as it does not leave any space unproductive, while it also allows and even incentivizes you to work on the weeds.
3. Plant Smart
Transplanting any crops in the fall garden should be done during cloudy, rainy or at least nighttime conditions. Even plants that are well hardened off will suffer in the sun upon transplantation, so make sure they are put in the ground with enough of a chance to recover. I like planting in the evenings if that is an option, but also right before a rain (if you are lucky enough to have one coming).
4. Use Insect Netting
Pests, almost more than heat, are among your biggest obstacles in a fall garden. Harlequin beetles love brassicas. Cabbage moths still linger through until frost. Flea beetles would love to stop the party before it starts. It can be a mess. The best deterrent for almost any pest, however, is insect netting. It isn’t always cheap, but it can be a life-saver and reduce the amount of time spent picking bugs off or spraying bio-pesticides.
5. Provide Adequate Irrigation
Plants are made of water, so you need to make sure the plants in your fall garden (which are almost all still planted in the summer) get enough water. Thirsty plants are slow to grow (or fast to bolt), so getting them established is essential. Make sure water gets on them early and stays on them for the first couple of weeks if conditions are dry. I like to even give them the occasional misting in the heat of the day just to cool them off and tell them, “Don’t worry, the fall is coming.”