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With temperatures at their highest of the summer all around the country, it’s hard to believe that it’s only just a matter of time until there is a chill in the air indicating the arrival of fall.
Just because the temperatures change, it doesn’t mean that you have to say goodbye to all the fabulous, fresh food from your garden. Right now, before the temperature turns, is a great time to get your fall garden going to extend your harvest.
Many crops do well, if not better in the autumn. Kale, spinach and even some lettuces actually prefer the cooler temperatures.
A good rule of thumb in knowing if it’s too late to plant a specific item is to look at the “days to maturity” on the back of its seed packet and subtract it from the day of your areas first frost. The USDA’s Hardiness Zone Map is a great tool in determining your first frost date (and last frost date for spring planting too!).
My home is about an hour north of Indianapolis and, according to the maps, October 21 is the first frost date for my area. October 21st is just about 60 days away. If you are further south, 1. Lucky you. And, 2. Your frost date will be later. However, in the fall, because days are shorter and the sun is not as strong as it is throughout the summer months, you will want to add about ten days to the “days to maturity” to make up for less daylight.
Let’s take a look at this packet of Mesclun Mix.
It will be mature in 45-50 days. So, with the addition of ten more days, we are looking at about 55 days from now which is October 16. Five days before the first frost in the north central Indiana/Chicagoland area.
Now is definitely the perfect time to get this planted into the ground.
Broccoli, on the other hand, is a hardy vegetable that does well in the fall but it takes a while to become fully mature. It takes 90 days, according to this seed packet.
So for me, it’s too late to get broccoli going. Late July would have been a better time to start broccoli seeds.
However, there are other varieties of broccoli, like broccoli raab, that grow in half that time and are perfect for planting right now.
If your heart is set on broccoli (or other longer maturity, hardy plants like cabbage), you may be able to find starter plants at a local nursery.
Other vegetables that are great for a fall garden and that can be planted now are the following:
- Mustard Greens
- Asian Greens like Pac Choi
- Swiss chard
- Some varieties of carrots
- Some herbs like basil and chives
As you plant your fall garden, keep a record of the dates and vegetables you put into the ground. Makes notes on what succeeds and what doesn’t so that you can use your experiences to help you with your late season garden year after year!