Here in Zone 8, we are very lucky to be able to grow food year-round. In cooler climates, people can employ tools such as cold frames and greenhouses to help start or extend their growing seasons. In this article, we look at fall gardening and some of the benefits and reasons why fall gardens are so important to the prepping communities.
Many of us in the prepping communities are concerned about food security. Much of the nation’s food now comes from outside of the nation. Big corporations are shipping raw materials to places like China where food is processed, boxed and returned to the USA in familiar packaging.
We have only to think back a few years ago to the pet food disaster where toxic and tainted pet food was killing pets right here in America. It is not so far of a leap to wonder how often toxins make their way into our foods.
Then there is the entire GMO issue and whether or not we want to eat those foods.
Another part of the food security argument occurs because some of us are concerned that many people are too reliant on grocery stores to supply their food, and should a natural disaster occur, that disrupts the food supply network, that food will become scarce.
Many of these issues are addressed (at least in part) when people take the initiative to grow their own food. The focus of many of these articles is to help others understand how and why to grow their own food.
It is difficult to say you need to do X, Y, and Z because of gardening changes based on where you are – the intensity of seasons, water, sun, altitude, etc. In short, there are many challenges that gardeners face.
For many people, Fall gardening is a race to get a second or third crop in before the first frost of fall hits. For that reason, we look at two things.
- The First Frost Date – this changes by area – You can find the first frost date and the last frost date for your area on this link to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
- the Days-to-Harvest – the total number of days (on average) for a plant to produce a crop when planted from seed. This information is usually on the back of each seed packet.
First Frost Date
The First frost date is determined by averaging the days each year when frost occurs in a specific geographic area. These are the educated guess and not set in stone. In some years the frost may come early or much later.
Where I live the first frost date is October 30 and they say that our growing season is 190 days. I do manage to grow things 365 days of the year and in the exact location where I Live the frost can come as early as September 1.
When you look at your first frost date keep in mind that it is not a guarantee.
Choosing Plants for a Fall Garden
There are many plants that prefer to grow in cooler climates. Many of those plants are staple foods. They include brassicas such as mustards, cabbage, broccoli, lettuces, and herbs such as cilantro.
When you choose plants for a fall garden choose plants that you love and foods that you eat. My fall and winter garden consist of:
Carrots – There are a lot of varieties of carrots. We tend to grow a standard orange carrot and one that is purple.
Snow Peas – These do well into winter and sometimes will last here until spring. The bulk of the harvest begins in late September. We plant here in August and they produce through much of October. After that, they tend to die back a bit. At this point, you can remove them or not. In warmer falls, they will produce into November and sometimes December.
Broccoli – We plant two varieties of broccoli. One is the standard head type and the other produces loose florets which are perfect for snipping. Broccoli heads tend to produce just one large head of broccoli and then a few small florets.
Cauliflower – Cauliflower is an amazing plant and vegetable. There are many new recipes that help to substitute cauliflower for potatoes and processed starches. There are many varieties of cauliflower plants. We tend to grow the regular white varieties – Snowball. There are purple and green varieties too.
Collard Green – During fall and winter, collard greens are a staple of our diet. We grow the Vates Collards which take about 75 days to mature. There are the Georgia Southern Creole Collards too. These are a bit thinner but delicious also. Vates is a like a mild form of kale and it stands up to frosts.
Spinach – Spinach is another staple of my garden. I grow Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach which offers large and broad leaves and it is slow to bolt. It also takes about 50 days to mature. You can also plant this in summer as the plant does fairly well in warmer weather. For fall, we plant around mid-August from seed. We also plant again in mid-March or early April.
Parsnips – These are one of my favorite root vegetables. They need to have a bit of a cold snap to sweeten up. I am fond of the Harris Model Parsnip which can produce foot long roots. Another good variety is the Half Long Guernsey Parsnip. These are perfect for Thanksgiving and holiday meals
Lettuces and greens – There many varieties of lettuces and greens that grow well in the cooler side of fall and even into winter. I grow lettuce here in the winter and it does just fine on the days we have snow. I grow the speckled varieties of oak leaf lettuce and if you reseed you can have ongoing greens well into summer.
When the heat comes, they tend to get bitter quickly. There are varieties that are more tolerant of heat but by the time summer is here, we are growing microgreens. Another option is minor’s lettuce which is a thicker leaf, like spinach, and adds a good flavor to meals.
Radishes – It is almost impossible not to grow radishes. There are wild radishes that grow around here like weeds. If you want something more exotic you can try daikon radish.
Turnips – Turnips are a staple of simpler food and soups. We grow a 20-row of turnips for use in stews, soups, and other meals. In addition to the root, we use the greens.
Beets – Beets are a staple of our daily meals and we grow a lot of them. They are perfect for canning, but we enjoy them pickled. You can make them sweet, hot, or both or you can just keep them traditional. We also like beets in salads and as sides.
They are easy to cook and can be dressed with a splash of apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar. There are also many varieties of beets. I am quite fond of the golden beets as I find them sweeter and they pair nicely with savory foods.
We roast them in the oven by making a foil envelope, adding a tbsp on butter, a dash of olive oil, salt, pepper and a clove of garlic for each beet that goes in the envelope. Cut the beets into halves or slice them and they will cook faster.
You can also add in herbs such as oregano to make these an incredible side. I enjoy Bull Blood Beets, Golden Beets, and the Chioggia beet. If you have children, the Chioggia beets are spiral in color and are fun for kids.
Garlic and Onions – Out here, we plant garlic and onion sets in November. These two staple plants do well over the winter and they produce harvestable crops usually by June. There are many varieties of garlic and onion from which you can choose, and I grow a variety of both.
You can find good garlic in the organic section of most supermarkets. Just break the heads apart without damaging the cloves and plant the cloves in the earth, about ½ inch deep. I prefer onion sets over seeds.
We plant equal parts of yellow and red onions and a few white onions too. Summer and early fall is usually the time of year when onion and garlic sets are available from your local nursery.
Fall gardening is an amazing adventure. Not only do you gain access to many common foods, but you have complete control over what you grow. You also have a usable food source right in your yard and available should available food stores become not available.
It is my hopes that this article inspires people to delve into gardening and that they begin to plan how to grow food year-round. There are so many options for fresh produce and for foods that can, dry or freeze well.
For more information about how to grow specific foods leave a comment and be sure to explore the library of articles here which also has articles on how to garden and why you should garden.
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