Planning a Fall Garden

Hello, friends! Today is July 14th, and while I had planned to give you all a new Homestead Update, I suddenly realized that we are exactly 12 weeks away from the predicted first freeze date in Iowa City and the surrounding area. Do you know what that means? It means that it is officially time to start thinking about a fall garden. Our first freeze date is somewhere around October 6th, which seems so far away, and in reality it will be here a lot faster than I hope to think! The summer has already blown right past me. And to be honest, thinking about starting new seeds sounds SO fun, but even the thought of getting out and planting them all kind of has me in a ditch-it-and-do-something-else mood. It's so freaking hot! But, I feel like I must try this. And if you've been wanting to plant a garden all summer but haven't gotten up the courage, here is your second chance, my friend! You can do this! 

A fall garden is know for growing crunchy and tasty vegetables. This is the time to plant interesting things like arugula, turnips, and other cool season crops. I will be experimenting with some new varieties and also planting garlic for the first time. While other plants are dying off or being harvested like potatoes and onions, I'll be sowing some new spinach plants and taking advantage of what the cooler weather will have to offer. For the climate we live in, this is the best time to plant carrots, rutabagas, and turnips for harvest in the late autumn. I've already had a few spaces vacated like my lettuce beds and will be planting a new variety of spinach and more romaine to enjoy later in the season. 

Pick Your Seeds

How do you plant a fall garden? By the time your warm weather crops start to diminish, it will be perfect timing for you to plant your fall crops. Figure out what exactly it is you want to plant for your fall garden. I am looking into some interesting cool weather greens and root vegetables. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has a great list here of their favorites for fall plantings. Find varieties that grow better in colder weather. For instance, my spring spinach is no longer looking so good as of this date. I have been wanting to just rip it out and start over with a different variety. I decided to grab a packet of Bloomsdale Spinach, which does well in colder weather. Hopefully this round will turn out better than my first!

When you've found your seeds, read the package to figure out how many days it takes for them to mature. Subtract that number from the average date of your first frost to find the best time to plant. For me, that tends to be around mid August for most of my picks. That makes July the perfect time to start any of my seeds indoors. July is typically the month to get started on planning all across the country, so it's time to get a move on!

Starting Seeds

Have you never started seeds before? Click here to read my basic guide. For fall, starting seeds is going to be hot. I started a few packets of annual flower seeds in my greenhouse at the end of May and found that it was a horrible idea. Only one seed sprouted and eventually pooped out from the intense heat. Midsummer is not an ideal time to start seeds from the heat exhaustion, but you can get them started inside where temperatures are often a bit cooler to help them out in their beginning stages. Once the seedlings have sprouted, wait about 2-3 weeks and set them outside on a cloudy day to harden them off. Do this for a few days, leaving them in the sun for a few hours at a time, so that they can build up their little seed bodies for the outdoor weather you will be transplanting them into. 

If you're behind schedule, you can always direct sow, but do this later in the season. For me, that's mid August or even early September. You will want to do this with fast growing varieties of seeds! You want to make sure that it is still around 80-70 degrees when you are planting new seeds in fall so that they can still have some heat to pop out of the ground. 

Plant Your Seeds

Whether you started seeds in trays or are direct sowing them, you don't want to forget about your soil. Fall planting is a great time to look into some plants that may help benefit your soil over the winter and looking into next spring. Some people plant red clover around this time as it brings in a lot of nutrients for the soil. 

If you are wondering about tilling your garden for fall crops in areas where that already happened in the spring, don't worry about it. There's no need to till again or even fertilize. We did not add any compost or plant food to the soil this year other than worm castings. I will probably do this again and may even order more worms. Just use a tined fork to move the top layers of soil around a bit before planting as the soil often gets compacted after various waterings from summer crops. If you have compost on hand, you can definitely spread this over the top of the soil around your new plants. It never hurts!

Protect Against Pests

Midsummer is prime time for pests to come and eat all of your new seedlings. This can be prevented by using row covers. If you don't want to do that, you can always use some organic pest control options like essential oils. Click here to read my tips on organic pest control. Just keep an eye on those little baby plants so that they do not get eaten by insects looking for a meal!

What should you plant? It's going to be different for everyone, and while I do not have the perfect definitive guide, I do have some ideas about what I want to change in my current garden. My lettuce bed will probably be cut back and filled with new plantings. That is also where I am growing my broccoli, which I have harvested from two plants. They will produce about two or three more times before they are done, and after that I can plant some new ones! Though, I will probably plant them at the opposite end of the bed or somewhere else to give the soil some variety. Here is my list of fall seeds I will be starting:

  • Spinach
  • Turnips
  • Arugula
  • Radishes
  • Beets
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli 
  • Green Beans
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Garlic
  • Shallots

It's time to start purchasing those autumn seeds and planning where you will be rotating old crops with new ones. I have created a free fall planting schedule for you to enjoy! If you need a little more help and would like a more exact schedule of when and what to plant, be sure to sign up for our newsletter HERE. Upon signing up, you will receive an email with a link that grants you access to download the printable guide. If you are already a newsletter subscriber, I have sent out an email with a password and link to the guide inside. If you missed it or did not receive it, definitely let me know, and I will be happy to help you find it! (:

Are you planting a fall garden this year? What are you most excited to grow?

xoxo Kayla