You may have thought that vegetable gardens were for the heat of the summer and that the fresh harvest train would no longer be making stops in your kitchen. Well, pull up those work gloves. Succession gardening, here we come.
If you've never delved into fall gardening, now is the time to jump into the deep end. There are a multitude of benefits, like less sweating, reduced swatting and a consistent bevy of fabulous, healthy, fresh-from-the-garden edibles.
Cold-season vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, garlic, shallots, beets, green onions, Chinese cabbage, and cabbage cousins such as cauliflower and kohlrabi, often taste sweeter after exposure to frost. Try introducing fast-growing salad crops like arugula, mustard, turnips and radishes, all of which can go from seed to harvest in 40 days. The hardiest of kale and spinach might even grow throughout the winter.
There's no excuse to not at least try to coax a second harvest from your already established vegetable plot, but you must start now. These exciting edibles need warm soil to start life in, plus with the onslaught of cooler temperatures their rate of growth will slow as degrees plummet.
Mark Lumpe, owner of Wakarusa Valley Farm since 1989, agrees that it is crucial to get these items planted immediately.
"Summer heat is entrenched so deep into the soil that it's hard to get seeds to sprout early enough so that they can mature before cold weather sets in," he says.
Bob Lominska, owner of Hoyland Farm, has been toiling in the fields since 1976 as a supplemental income to teaching. Here's his advice on sowing an autumn harvest: "It can be very hot and dry when it is time to plant fall crops and the bugs are big, the newly germinated plants are small. Chomp! And it's all gone."
I'm a bit more optimistic, however. As the Earth seems to get warmer and winters become milder, why not throw off the bowlines and create the strong possibility of reaping a thick, rich autumn harvest late into the year?
With successive gardening you increase the chance for plentiful harvest, taking advantage of peak weather conditions and eating healthy foods substantially longer. Succession gardening also enables the gardener to not be dependent on any one season or any one crop.
Sharon Wenger owns MWB Produce, which sells fresh foods and delivers them to consumer's homes. She relies on 20 years of farming experience to nourish her autumn crops.
"The bonus of growing your own crops is having tasty, fresh and healthy food," she says, "plus you get more exercise caring for the crop and the variety that you long for."
Some of Wenger's favorite fall crops are winter squash and the last bit of basil for making pesto.
Lominska has some favorites of his own for the autumn bounty.
"I really like some of the greens in the fall, such as Chinese cabbage, various kinds of bok choy, arugula, broccoli raab. If kale and collards have survived the trauma of a Kansas summer, their quality returns," he says.
Not only can successive gardening fill your belly, but by concentrating on the fall garden you are actually getting a jump-start on the spring as well. By planting crops that will harvest, then survive through the winter with a light blanket of mulch or straw, they will resume growth in the spring.