As we approach the end of summer, are you getting ready to bid farewell to your garden till next Spring? Did you know that it is possible to continue to eat fresh produce from your garden through the Fall and even into the Winter? Though it is less common, Fall gardening uses the same basic skills, tools and principles as Spring/Summer gardening. There is a great Fall Planting Calculator at www.johnnyseeds.com/t-InteractiveTools.aspx (scroll down & click on Fall-Planting Calculator) that can help you get started on planning a Fall garden, but you can plant nearly anything that will mature before our first frost. Here in Zone 8a that is October 27th.
Soil temperature must be taken into account when planting a Fall garden. Just as you may have started hot-weather plants indoors in the Spring to protect them from the chill, you may need to start some Fall crops indoors if their seeds do not germinate in hot soil. There is a useful table at http://www.heirloomseeds.com/germination.html that will help you make that determination.
Unlike cold-sensitive tomatoes, many Fall crops can be left in the natural refrigeration of Fall and Winter weather and harvested as you need them during those months. This includes most root vegetables, many cool-weather greens and some brassicas. Parsnips, brussels sprouts and artichokes are actually supposed to be at their best when frost-kissed.
You will find that the growth of your garden will stop or slow significantly during the cold weather, but that many plants will begin to grow again when warmer weather returns in the Spring. Unbeknownst to me, my kids found a packet of seed peas in the garage last August and planted them amongst the remains of my Summer garden. They sprouted, grew to eight inches or so, remained that height through the winter, and then shot up and blossomed as soon as the weather warmed. We ate peas much earlier than we would have if we had planted in the early Spring!
If you love eating fresh-from-the-garden, try your hand at a Fall garden this year. Good luck and happy harvest!