August is usually a time when the mowing, weed eating, weeding and other garden chores ebb and the harvest peaks. A few yellow leaves off the cottonwoods are starting to fly, and the nights have that edge-of-fall chill. It may feel like harvest and canning time, but it is also time to start planting for fall and winter crops. Just think of this–for many years my dad and I have had the tradition of digging carrots for Christmas dinner. Wouldn’t you like to be eating the sweetest, brightest carrots too? If so, now is the time to plant.
The Planting Season is the Whole Season
One of the biggest differences between a typical home garden and a market farm like mine is the frequency of planting. To extend the season, home gardeners can simply plant 1. small amounts, 2. more often, and 3. longer into the season.
As a market farmer, I start planting in the greenhouse in February. If it is dry enough, in April I start planting the February starts and seeds outside and in the hoop house. I consider my planting season weekly or bi-weekly from April through mid-September in my 6b hardiness zone.
Home gardeners will have less space than I have on the farm, but the concept is the same. Plant partial rows or plots weekly or bi-weekly throughout the season. Each week you can use a small hoe or hand hoe to prepare a small spot for a few feet of lettuce, beets or scallions. Spend 10 minutes planting a small space rather than putting in 20 feet of radishes. You cannot eat that many. I know the temptation once seeds get into your hand to plant until the packet is empty, but hold back!
How I Plant Season Long
As soon as one crop is pulled out of the ground, I prepare the soil for the next. I plan ahead and cut water to crops that I know only have one more picking so that I can harvest, pull, till and plant right away. I want the soil to dry out so I can till or hoe it into a proper seed bed. Make sure you remember to baby your seeds along with ample water (even if it is hand watering) through germination and into the true leave stage before you forget about them and treat them like the mature plants.
Pick the right varieties
If you want to expand your planting season, you need to buy the right seed. For spring you need “cold hardy” varieties. For spring you need “main crop” varieties or those that don’t seem too picky about heat or cold. For summer you need “heat tolerant” or “slow-bolting” varieties. In the fall, you return to your spring varieties. For winter you look for “overwintering” varieties or cold tolerant crops that have 120 or more days to maturity. Also, anything called “Russian” is a good indicator it is cold hardy.
If you buy your seed from companies with good seed descriptions, you will be better off. I like Johnny’s Select Seed for the very specific growing information and High Mowing and Baker Creek Heirlooms for the variety.
Use row cover & plastic
Row cover (aka cloche or remay) is a wonderful way to protect your fall and overwinter crops from cold and pests. I use Agribon 30 weight because it is the most durable. You can make hoops from number 9 fencing wire or 1 inch schedule 40 PVC thick wall pipe (don’t buy thin walled PVC.) You can make short “feet” and pound them into the ground and bend your PVC hoops over them. If you leave your row cover on all season, make sure to cover with clear plastic too. The weight of snow will damage your row cover.
Many folks use straw to protect the roots of crops they overwinter such as carrots. Some folks cover the straw with plastic too. I tried this on a 60×60 bed and made a perfectly warm, dry mouse house. They ate all my carrots. Now I just leave my carrots uncovered in the wilds of winter and they do just fine.
Crops for fall
Think about fall crops as those you eat the leaves or roots of as a guide. No tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers or basil. Think about eating things from norther latitudes, not from the Mediterranean or Mexico.
- Cover crops
You can plant any of these crops now (mid-August) in zone 6b, but you can use the Johnny’s Selected Seed fall-harvest planting calculator to get more precise. The calculator is based on the last day of 10 hours of daylight at your latitude. In Cove, Oregon on the 45th parallel north, it is November 4th. Count backwards from there for planting dates by crop.
Here is my fall planting plan for our latitude and based on November 4th. Keep in mind, these are possible crops for each date–you don’t have to plant everything every week. One thing not on my list here are radishes. They can be planted pretty much any time after the heat abates.
As I mentioned, carrots are great for overwintering. Look for “storage” or “overwintering” varieties like Johnny’s Bolero or Napoli. I had great luck with Bolero.
Other crops that are fun to try overwintering are kale, chard, broccoli, greens like mache & Claytonia, leeks, parsnips, and onions. Remember to pick the right variety and get all the info for best planting dates and practices. I really recommend overwintering chard.
Seeds that spring up
At the end of the season, I generally throw out a lot of pea, dill, and cilantro seed. It overwinters in the ground and comes up very early in the spring when conditions are right. It you can eat the pea shoots and young herbs in delightful spring meals you will appreciate after a long winter.
I hope this was helpful to you! Happy planting!
Your grateful farmer,