Many people are just beginning to see production on their tomatoes. So it may be hard to think about what you will eat in October and November when your tomatoes are gone, but now is the time to think about that. Colorado is well suited to fall gardening and winter harvest and it can be done successfully almost anywhere. If you’ve never tried it, here are 10 reasons why you should.
|Winter Hardy Rainbow Swiss Chard|
1. Gardens can be any size – So anybody can do it.
Fall crops are primarily greens and root crops, so they are very well adapted to container gardening, table top raised beds, raised beds of all kinds. They are also well suited for intensive planting, so you really can get a big bang in a small space. So even if you start with one container of spinach this year – do it. You’ll catch the bug and increase it next year.
2. There are many vegetables that thrive in fall front range gardens and can be planted NOW!
Beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, kale and chard can all be planted now. August is the best time to plant arugula, cabbage, endive, spinach, cilantro and September you can plant bush peas, radishes, Chinese greens, more spinach and lettuce and the list goes on. Where it gets really interesting is in the varieties of each crop that is possible to try. My fall garden has no fewer than 5 varieties of spinach, 10 varieties of lettuce and 4 Chinese vegetables, like Pac Choi and Bok Choi and 3 kales to name a few. Salads and stir fries are never the same. September or October is the time to plant garlic.
3. Fall crops thrive in cooler weather and many fall crops are frost tolerant.
All these vegetables actually develop their prime flavors when the ambient temperatures are cooler. So getting them germinated and up now so it is cooler when they begin to mature is the goal.
4. Fall crops do not need a full 8 hours of sun each day.
Although all these crops still require sun to photosynthesize – they are mostly leafy – most of these crops are designed to thrive in less than 8 hours of full sun. So if you did not have the right place for tomatoes, say, you may have the perfect place for a pot of spinach, lettuce or chard which all will do well with 5-6 hours of light.
5. Season protection is easy to obtain and apply.
There are many ways to protect your crops whether they are in containers or raised beds or even in ground that can be left on and removed for harvest or quickly applied if a frost happens. These can be frost blankets, horticultural fabrics, cloches and even having a supply of old sheets handy if applied correctly.
6. Transplants for the fall garden are on sale now – but most like to be direct sown.
Garden centers are slashing prices on transplants now, so they aren’t stuck with plants later. Don’t buy tomatoes; it’s too late for those unless they are 50-55 day varieties. Look carefully at days to maturity of other vegetables. The shorter the season, (days to maturity) the better. And at half price, try them; especially the broccoli and cauliflower. The best thing about most of these fall crops is that they do well when planted from seed; in particular the greens such as spinach, lettuces and many herbs. Seeds are still readily available if you do not already have them.
You plant it in the spring, it bolts in June and you wonder how you will ever have a great homemade salsa. Plant again in August and you will have it when your tomatoes come in (providing Mother Nature cooperates in the tomato department!). Cilantro thrives in the cooler temperatures and is a great fall herb.
8. You can try some interesting greens you may have never tried.
There are many gorgeous and delicious Chinese greens that are nutritious, beautiful to look at and delicious to eat and very well adapted to our climate to grow. Many are in the brassica family. Wonderful mustards and cabbages with great names like Pac Choi, Ip Ssam Hong, or Dragon Tongue. Many of our local small growers are providing these wonderful greens at the Farmers Markets now, so give them a try and then plant some of your own. You can let them grow full size or harvest as baby vegetables which cost a small fortune in the stores. Many are cut and come again when grown this way.
9. You can walk out of your back door and have your own fresh produce for 11 months out of the year.
I enjoyed wonderful fresh produce for 12 months last year. Weather often dictates the length of the season, but 11 months is not out of the question for Front Range gardeners.
10. You know the provenance of your food and grew fresh, organic, clean salad.
There is no substitute for knowing where your food comes from – really – and to know that is clean and pesticide free. Becoming acquainted with our local small farmers, visiting the farm itself and seeing for yourself that their food is grown organically, and then supporting them by joining a CSA (several of which are growing nearly year round as well) and supplementing by growing your own is the safest way to eat. And it is easily done.