Chef Chris Stevens’ Tips for Planting Your Own Fall/Winter Vegetable Garden

Plant a vegetable patch this Fall to enjoy before the cold sets in.  You’d be surprised, in just a few weeks you could be savoring harvest-fresh flavors for a fraction of the cost of store-bought produce. As we know here at ACE, growing your own vegetables in extremely rewarding because you manage the both the pesticides and fertilizers. But again, Winter is coming, so here’s what you need to know to get started before it’s too late for Mother Nature to work her magic!

Select a Location

Choose an area that receives at least six hours of full sun. Orient your garden east to west so that it basks in the sun all day. If possible, select a spot that’s close to your home and a water source. Easy access will lead you to visit your garden more frequently, which translates into detecting potential problems early and harvesting vegetables at just the right moment.

Test the Ground for Planting

Hard ground can ruin a garden. To check your soil, stick a shovel into the area you plan to transform into a vegetable garden. If the soil is crumbly, that’s a good sign it’s light and porous enough for good root growth. If it’s hard, heavy clay, which is typical of many suburban settings, you’ll have to work over time to amend and create a healthy, crumbly soil. If the soil is easy to slice through because it’s sandy, check the color. Amend light-colored, poor-quality soil until it becomes dark and rich in organic matter.

Determine the Garden Bed Size

Start small for a first vegetable garden—create a plot that you can manage without feeling overwhelmed. Try 3-foot-square or 3- by 4-foot beds. And if your soil isn’t up to par, consider using raised beds, which make your garden more accessible, keep soil in place, and provide an effective solution to suburban clay soil. For instructions on building a raised plant bed from pest-repellent cedar, click here.

Tip: Create a walkway through your bed using pavers, gravel or hay as it will make it easier for you to care for and gather your vegetables.

Prep the Soil

There is no need to remove sod entirely, but loosen and uproot the grass with a spading fork. On top of sod, put down 4 to 6 inches of topsoil or topsoil combined with compost. Add a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost annually to continue building healthy, crumbly soil. In zones where winter brings frozen soil that precludes gardening, prepare vegetable beds in the fall. Add a 2-inch layer of chopped  leaves to turf, covering it with a 2- to 4-inch layer of topsoil. Winter freezing and thawing will break down leaves and sod, and in the spring, beds will be ready for planting.

Know Your Season

Vegetable plants can be classified as either cool or warm-season crops, named for whether they prefer cool or warm weather. Examples of cool-season crops are lettuce, greens, peas, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, beets, carrots, and potatoes. Most cool-season vegetables can withstand a light frost, and some, such as collards and kale, can tolerate 20° Fahrenheit temperatures. Types of warm-season crops include beans, melons, peppers, tomatoes, okra, eggplants, squash, and corn. These are very sensitive to cold and must be planted in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. Their harvest will come to an end with the first frost of fall.

Depending on where you live and the length of your growing season, you will either have plenty of warm-season vegetables or lots of cool-season vegetables, but either way, you’ll have veggies galore. Your local garden center will sell plants at the appropriate planting time.

Sketch a Planting Plan

When designing your Fall/Winter garden, map out the location of cool-season crops first because you will be starting with these. Consider where your Spring crops will grow as well. Place the tallest plants on the northern side of your vegetable garden so that they don’t shadow other plants. Practice succession planting: As a cool-season crop finishes, pull it, and plant a warm-season crop in its place. Or surround one crop with another that you’ll harvest first, as long as their growth habits don’t choke each other out. For example, plant bush beans in a 3-foot-diameter circle around tomato plants. You’ll harvest the beans as the taller tomato vines fill out. You also can practice succession planting with any crop that has a limited harvest season. For instance, plant bush beans, radishes, beets, corn, or carrots every two weeks during the appropriate growing season.

Consider Irrigation

Vegetables are about 90 percent water, so it’s vital to water crops. An overhead sprinkler does an effective job, as long as you water very early in the morning. This will allow leaves to dry early, in the same way that dew dries. Keeping leaves dry overnight will help prevent diseases. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation efficiently deliver water directly to soil and plant roots. In municipalities with watering restrictions, opt for soaker hoses or drip-irrigation methods, which are regulated differently from overhead watering. In our zone, mulch crops to conserve soil moisture. Use straw or pine straw, and it will add organic matter as it breaks down.

Good luck with your Fall/Winter gardens and by all means, let us know how your garden grows!

Comments are closed.