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Planning and planting a fall vegetable garden.

When most people think of gardening, they envision starting seeds in the spring and harvesting a plethora of veggies by the summer. But that is just one growing season. We here in the southern states have the advantage of extending our growing into several seasons by utilizing the warm autumn days and late frost dates.

The thought of planting in the fall brings to mind many questions. What plants are frost hardy? Just how do I decide when to plant? What zone do I live in? What is a zone? You don't need to be a master gardener to accomplish an abundant autumn harvest. If you garden in the spring and summer, it is an easy transition to late summer and fall gardening. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards, turnips, spinach, lettuce, and swiss chard can all be harvested through mild frosts, and some can grow straight through the hard freezes of late fall and early winter. A few of these plants need to have already been started, but there are others that you can begin planting now. (See sidebar on Second Season Vegetables for a partial list of these plants.)

Deciding when to plant is dependent upon the first frost date of the year, as well as the particular zone you inhabit. Keep in mind that most plants need to be about ninety percent mature in order to endure cold temperatures. The United States is divided into ten zones. The zones are based on the annual average cold temperature of a particular area. We live in zones six to eight. Zone six encompasses the mountains of Western North Carolina. Here we see an average winter temperature of zero to minus ten degrees. Our first heavy frost can be any where from September 30 to October 30. Zone seven includes the piedmont of North Carolina, northern South Carolina and North Georgia. The average winter temperature is zero to ten degrees. The rest of Georgia and South Carolina fall in zone eight. Average winter temperature is ten to twenty degrees. (See the First Hard Frost sidebar for a list of dates specific to your area.) Keep in mind that there are also different climates and frost dates within these zones. Sun exposure (northern versus southern), altitude, wind, and wind chill factors can change the average temperature and first frost date in any zone.

Sometimes frosts come earlier than expected, regardless of the zone, sun exposure etc. Certain parts of your garden might receive more frost than others. Frost settles, so don't plant on the lowest part of your land. If you can, put your plants in an area where they receive the most sun exposure during the day, and are high enough on your property to avoid the settling frost of night. Of course, there will come a point when frost on your plants is unavoidable. A few of your hardier plants, such as collards and kale, will actually have improved flavor after being frost-kissed.

A few of the less hardy plants, like spinach and lettuces, can be extended a little longer by a Covering at night. This covering works in two ways: it seals in the heat of the day and protects the leaves against heavy frost at night. Cotton sheets work really well. Make sure your covering is well supported, such as with a wooden frame, so that its weight doesn't injure the leaves. If you are expecting high winds as well as frost, secure the covering as much as possible to avoid it blowing off and creating lots of damage to your plants. If you are using plastic, make sure that the plastic doesn't touch the leaves at all. It can transfer the cold directly to the plant.

In late autumn and early winter, the time will come when you have to let nature take its course. You can only do so much to extend the growing season. Eventually plants will succumb to cold and frost and the inevitable snowfall; leave these veggies in your garden. Take down your fence if possible, or open up the gate door, let the rabbits and deer munch at the plants. Leaving the remains of your garden standing through the winter provides a shelter for beneficial insects, which will come to your aid next growing season. Anything not eaten will slowly decay and can be turned over into the garden when tilling the next spring. This is the cycle of life.

Take notes about which plants worked well for you and how long into the year it lasted. If your plants didn't reach maturity fast enough, plant the seeds earlier next year. Keep track of the frost dates you observe in your garden, and remember that the time and amount of frost can differentiate over a one-mile area. Your first time planting an autumn garden won't be perfect. But paying attention to your successes and your mistakes ensures a better crop next year.


The Backyard Vegetable Factory: Duane Newcomb The Vegetable Gardener's Bible: Edward C. Smith The Garden Primer. Barbara Damrosch Rodale's All New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: Barbara W Ellis, Fern Marshall

Second Season Vegetables

Spinach Plant from mid-August to mid-September depending on your first frost date. Germination Time: 8 to 10 days Days to Harvest: 45 Can harvest through frost.

Kale Plant from mid-August to mid-September depending on your first frost date. Germination Time: 3 to 10 days Days to Harvest: 60 Can harvest through frost. Frost can actually make the kale tastier.

Mustard Greens Plant from mid-August to mid-September depending on your first frost date. Germination Time: 4 to 10 days Days to Harvest: 40 Can harvest until heavy frost.

Turnips Plant from mid-August to beginning of September depending on your first frost date. Germination Time: 4 to 10 days Days to Harvest: 40 Can harvest until heavy frost

Leaf Lettuce Plant from mid-August to mid-September depending on your first frost date. Germination Time: 5 to 8 days Days to Harvest: 45 Can harvest until heavy frost.

Collards Plant from mid-August to mid-September depending on your first frost date. Germination Time: 5 to 10 days Days to Harvest: 60 Mature plants are very frost hardy.

Teresa Soule who lives in Asheville NC, works as the Layout Manager, Editorial Manager, and Office Manager for New life Journal. In her spare time, she hikes and explores the mountains with her husband Eric and two dogs. She enjoys gardening all times of the year and will gladly answer your questions. Send them to
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Title Annotation:DEPT.> digging in
Author:Soule, Teresa
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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