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August is a time of bountiful harvests, garden parties, and vacations. But, it is also a time to be planning, preparing, seeding and planting for fall and winter harvests.
The first step in gardening for cold weather is to determine how ideal your climate is for winter crops. If you garden somewhere that never experiences a frost or freeze, you may be able to seed just about any time – even waiting until the heat of summer has past. If you grow in an area known to get frosts and light freezes, adding crop protection via a passive cold frame, hoop house or greenhouse may be an option. Or, if your crops are likely to undergo weeks or months of hard freezes and very little light, your crop protection structures may need supplemental heat and light. And, of course another option is to only extend your crops until that heavy freeze hits, opting to let some edibles go to earth at that point while others may be harvestable from deep beneath a wintery blanket of snow.
Once you have determined where in the garden you’ll be growing and for how long you hope to get harvests, the next step is to decide which crops you want to propagate.
Brassicas: Even in cooler climates, many “cole crops” will perform well and often taste better following a chill. These include cabbage, kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Seed them while the days are still long, and protect seedlings from extreme heat or the babies may simply bolt. Although brassica seeds are known to take several days to germinate, during the sunny days of summer, they often begin to sprout quickly. Once they do, pot them up or get them into the garden right away. And keep them cool and protected from late summer heat waves.
Leafy greens: Greens like lettuce, chard, and spinach can be tricky this time of year. Seeds will sprout quickly, and in too much heat they too may bolt right away. Hit by an early frost, those tasty leaves may blacken and melt to the ground. Since these crops don’t require as many hours of sunshine as, say, tomatoes and cucumbers, try sowing them into a shadier spot to get the crop going before cold weather arrives.
Root Crops: Staple root crops like potatoes, parsnips, sunchokes, and carrots survive surprisingly well beneath the soil and even under deep layers of snow in winter. Most are planted much earlier in the season than late summer, but even a crop of parsnips and carrots can be sown in mid-summer to harvest later in winter. The top growth of these crops will disappear when temperatures drop, so mark your planting beds well so you can find and dig them up for a tasty winter stew.Hint:many veteran gardeners prefer the taste of these crops after they’re touched by winter’s chill.
And, don’t forget, late summer is the time to order your seed garlic to plant for next year’s harvest
Cover crops: Sometimes letting your garden beds take a break from production is the best way to go. Rather than always growing and extracting food for our tables, sometimes we need to restock our soil with nutrients. Cover crops not only provide this replenishing respite for the garden, but they also protect soil from erosion, feed pollinators, suppress weeds, and on occasion they feed us as well. In some climates, sowing a late crop of sugar snap or snow peas is a quick-grow, replenishment option. In cooler climates, fall Fava beans make a fantastic choice to feed the soil, pollinators, and provide beans for our table come spring. Other cover crop options include buckwheat, clover, vetch and more.
Last time in this series: Mid-Summer Crop Rotation.