Sowing for All Seasons

Kale at the Diamond St. Community Garden.

Many people think that the gardening/farming season is over with the end of summer. But there are still plenty of days left before the snow hits, and now is actually a great time to sow crops for harvest this fall or even next year. Planting in late summer extends the growing season and maximizes space, allowing you to reap even more fresh veggies from the garden and giving you a jump start on food for next year.

There are other advantages to fall crops as well: some vegetables actually have an improved flavor when they are planted in late summer and harvested after the first frost, like collards, kale, parsnips, and carrots; the cold increases the sugar content and sweetens their taste. Weeds and pests are also less of a problem at this point in the year.

To learn how to plant fall crops and prep your garden for winter, be sure to attend the free workshops coming up this month:

  • “Extending the Season: Growing Winter Greens.” Saturday, September 11 at 3 pm. Bridgham St. Community Garden at Westminster St. Part of the Plant Providence series.
  • “Fall Crops, Mulch, Putting Gardens to Bed.” Wednesday, September 15 at 5 pm at Janes St. Community Garden near Eddy and Rhodes St. Also offered Saturday, September 18 at 10 am at Amos Earley Park Community Garden on Cadillac Dr. near Eddy St. Part of the Plant Providence series.
  • “Winter Greens.” Sunday, September 26 at 11 am at the University of Rhode Island campus’ East Farm Bldg. 75. Offered by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).

In case you can’t make it to a workshop, here are a few general tips for more effective fall planting:

  • You want to choose early maturing varieties of plants to ensure that you get a harvest before things get too cold. Seeds planted in the late summer and early fall can take as much as two weeks longer to mature because of the cooler air temperature and shorter days. For this reason, some people recommend adding a 10-to-14-day “fall factor” to the days-to-maturity number provided with your seeds. Alternately, you can start seeds ahead of time in August and transplant them at this time next year.
  • After planting, make sure to keep the soil consistently well watered so the seeds don’t dry out.
  • Protect your plants with a layer of mulch—shredded leaves or straw. You can also use floating row covers or painter’s plastic (drop cloths) as a barrier against the cold, covering the plants at night once it begins to freeze and removing the material during the day.

Root crops, leafy greens, and members of the cabbage family (cole crops or brassicas) do well in cool weather and can even tolerate a light frost. Here are some cold-loving vegetables that are possible to start about this time in Rhode Island, which is in USDA hardiness zone 6a:

  • spinach
  • leaf lettuce
  • arugula
  • turnips
  • radishes
  • chard
  • Asian greens such as bok choy/pac choi
  • kale
  • beets
  • miner’s lettuce (claytonia)
  • chives
  • collards
  • mustard greens
  • cilantro
  • parsnips
  • scallions (green onions)
  • carrots*

*(when protected)

The first frost for the Providence area is generally sometime in mid- to late October, but the weather is variable: there is always the chance that there will be an early cold snap and some plants will not make it. However, the potential benefits of fall planting far outweigh the risks!

“Wintering over” is another great option for your garden plot. For example, in October, you can plant cloves of garlic to be harvested the following summer. Other vegetables that can winter over include shallots, carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, scallions, collards, and onions. Make sure to give them a good layer of mulch: you’ll be able to clear it away and pull up the vegetables in early spring before the other, freshly planted crops are ready. While you’re waiting for the thaw, continue to enjoy your fall harvest: the squashes, potatoes, onions, cabbages, and shallots that you pick and uproot over the next few weeks can last for months when stored in a root cellar or a cool, dark place indoors such as a basement or the crisper/produce drawer of your refrigerator.

If you have experience with planting fall crops, overwintering vegetables, or storing your fall harvest, and would like to share a tip, please add a comment here or on our Facebook page!

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2 Comments to “Sowing for All Seasons”

  1. Thought you might interested in an interactive version of the USDA hardiness zone map covering Rhode Island at http://www.plantmaps.com/interactive-rhode-island-usda-plant-zone-hardiness-map.php
    that may be a vauluabe resource for your readers.

    you can also get first/last frost dates for your zipcode.

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