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The Cool Crowd: Fall and Winter Gardening

Cool weather doesn’t have to mean the end of gardening. In fact, in warmer climates fall and winter gardens can be more rewarding than their summer counterparts! Last year, my backyard garden in Austin, Texas, fed us leafy greens, broccoli and other brassicas from November until late March, when I finally had to pull them to make room for a summer crop. The cool weather kept the pests at bay and a wide variety of leafy greens helped keep things interesting — and that’s when I realized that fall and winter were my favorite gardening seasons. Here’s how to get your autumnal garden in gear this year.

Seasonal Strategy

Find out what’s coming into season in your area. Learn your hardiness zone, and then turn to your county’s planting calendar (or simply ask a knowledgeable gardener at your local nursery) to find out what to plant and when. Pay attention to the transplants that are available at local markets; chances are you’ll be seeing cilantro, dill, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage starts around this time. Cooler temperatures are ideal for the brassica family; leafy greens from lettuce to kale; root vegetables like carrots, turnips and radishes; the spaceship-like kohlrabi; and a number of herbs.

Space Out

Take space into consideration and plan accordingly. Leafy greens need little room to grow and are perfect for container gardens or raised beds, but some of the brassica varieties — like Brussels sprouts — need more space to spread their wings.

Successfully Successive

Sow seeds successively (at periodic intervals) for a more diverse harvest. Last year I planted all my carrots at the same time — and then only got to enjoy eating carrots for a week. This year, I’m planting a few rows of carrot seeds at a time, two weeks apart. The same goes for turnips and kohlrabi, head lettuces and some varieties of cabbage. Anything that is called “cut and come again,” as most leafy greens, herbs and broccoli are, can stand a trimming and will continue to grow back.

Seeds vs. Seedlings

Decide early on in your garden planning what you’ll plant from seed, and what you’ll plant as transplants. A few things to consider: leafy greens, carrots, turnips, peas and radishes all come up rather easily from seed, and most seed packets advise direct sowing (that is, plant them directly into the spot where you want to harvest, as opposed to planting in a seed tray). If you have time and space, try growing other things from seed too. My personal preference is to plant lettuces, arugula, kale, spinach, peas, carrots and turnips from seed, but to purchase organic transplants for broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

Take Cover

For a fall and winter garden, be sure to have a frost protection plan. Whether you stock up on thrift store sheets or build intricate row covers with PVC pipe and hardware clamps, be sure you know how you’ll protect your garden should a hard freeze come your way. Stay one step ahead by listening to weather forecasts, and when in doubt, call up a local gardening expert to find out just what needs to be covered at what temperature.

Draw Up The Plan

Armed with all this information, set out to make a detailed garden plan. Follow the information from seed packets and other vegetable gardening resources to determine how much space you’ll need. Then, put your plan into action! I spent a little time designing mine, but it’s just as effective to sketch one out with pen and paper. Once you have the plan, get to work and enjoy the fruits of the harvest.

Do you have some fall and winter garden success stories, tips or questions?