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Growing Food With Greg: All about fall crops

Fall crops are a great way to get a little more out of your garden each year. If you've never tried planting them before, it's time to get them in the ground! While there are many approaches to getting them started, I like doing it the easy way!
These romaine lettuce seedlings had no problem pushing through a couple of inches of hay mulch. The mulch also greatly reduces the need for constant watering, despite the dry weather that we have been having for the past few weeks. (GREG AUTON)

Starting fall crops during the late summer months is a great idea: you plant some greens in late summer, and then you get to enjoy them in October and November, when the frost actually improves their flavour. While this makes sense, a good number of people just don't bother, and believe it's not worth the hassle. In this article I will discuss how I start my fall crops, and I think you'll see that it's easy and quick.

When do I need to sow my seeds?

The general rule is at least 10 weeks before the anticipated first frost, but I would start even earlier, due to the extreme variability of the weather where I live. The first frost in Nova Scotia can land anytime in October, and while the flavour of a lot of greens tend to be improved by frost, their rate of growth is not. If you want your crops to have a reasonable size when they are harvested, they need time to grow, so early August is about as late as I would ever leave it. Luckily, figuring out when to sow your seeds doesn't have to be complicated at all — you just need to listen to your garden.
Certain crops are ready to be harvested at about the same time that fall crops need to be planted. My carrots, for instance, which I planted the first week of April, are already of a good size, and we have been enjoying them for weeks. As soon as a row gets cleared out, something else can go back in its place. The potatoes (70-day-to-maturity varieties) that I planted in late April are also ready to harvest so new seeds are going in there as well.

Where do I plant them? I don't have any more room!

 When space is at a premium, it pays to have a plan if you want multiple harvests from the same swath of earth.  The easiest way to make room for fall crops is to harvest your crops in late summer in a manner that makes room. Again, this is solved by planting vegetables in the spring that will be harvested in early August. The easiest of these to grow is potatoes. I've been pulling potatoes from my garden for about three weeks now, and each time I do, I have come behind sowing different varieties of leafy greens, and now I am seeing new seedlings poking through the soil where my potatoes had been.

Is it hard to start seedlings this time of year?

080817-swiss-chardThis Swiss chard came through the seaweed and leaves easily. (GREG AUTON)

To achieve germination, you need constant heat and constant moisture. In August, constant heat is not a problem, but constant moisture can be a challenge. Luckily, if you have begun to explore the permaculture approach to gardening, all of your gardens have some sort of mulch on them by now. In the case of my potatoes, the 12-inch layer of hay that I put over them in April has now broken down to about two inches. This means that the soil has been fed to some degree with all of that decaying plant matter, and the remaining mulch is just the right depth to spread right over the area where I planted my seeds. Don't worry, most seedlings will have no problem pushing through an inch or two of hay. Where I mulched potatoes with seaweed, the same approach is being used. Plant your seeds, lay down a light mulch, water well, and that should do it! Check your soil every few days to see if it is still moist, and if not water again. They should be up in a week, and on their way to providing you with delicious meals deep into November if the weather co-operates.

Final thoughts

For me, everything about gardening should be relaxing, like a meditation. This approach to starting fall crops fits into that mentality like a glove. All you really are doing is throwing down a few seeds while you are harvesting food. In a matter of minutes, a new bed is weeded, planted, watered and mulched, and you are heading back to the kitchen with a bucket of awesome food. That's gardening the easy way!


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Greg  Auton

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