There’s nothing like those few sunny warm days after a cold bleak winter to turn even the most hardened city dweller to thoughts of gardening. My friends are often surprised to hear that I vastly prefer fall vegetable gardening in Georgia to either spring or summer. Why? Let me count the ways…
- Fewer bugs
- Less watering
- Weeds grow more slowly
- No sunburned ears
- No sweating through your bermudas (shorts, that is!)
Fall vegetable gardening loses its terror when you realize that all food crops can be classified as either warm/hot weather or cool/cold weather. Whereas tomatoes, squash, corn, beans, and melons all flourish in the bright sunny days of summer, there are just as many vegetables who need cooler weather to grow and sweeten. These cool weather crops include lettuce, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, kale, spinach, and leeks.
As well, many types of onions and garlics are sown in the fall for harvest in the spring; other vegetables can be grown to maturity into the fall and left to overwinter in the ground such as carrots, turnips, and rutabagas leaving you to enjoy the harvest all winter long.
Planning is the Key
Read all seed packages carefully and pick varieties that do well in cooler temps and those which actually sweeten after the first frost. Count back the number of days for maturity from the date of the average first frost; here in metro Atlanta, that is Nov. 15. This will give you the date to start seedlings indoors or directly outside.
For example, one of my favorites is Tennis Ball Lettuce (introduced to the U.S. by Thomas Jefferson) which has a maturity of 55 days. This gives me a final date of app. Sept. 20 to start my last seeds. Because I love having fresh lettuce, I usually plant successively, every week up until that Sept. 20 date. I will begin seedlings indoors in August, harden them off outside and then move them into the outdoor garden until Sept. 20. This will give me continuous fresh lettuce up until the first frost. I can even extend this a couple weeks by planting in pots which I bring inside the patio on those first few chances of frost.
Bonus Fall Gardening Tip:
Many packets of seeds are marked down late summer when stores are trying to clear out their inventory. All you need is a little know how to take advantage of these savings.
Here in Georgia, we are blessed with rather mild winters. I can remember several years when I harvested broccoli from my garden for Christmas dinner! So don’t let the shorter days of fall dampen your gardening spirit. Now is the time to plant those fall and winter crops!
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