This week marked the autumnal equinox, that time of year when day and night hours are of equal length, and we head into decreasing daylight hours, as the nights become cooler and days are cast in sharp contrasting light. This is the time of year my clients ask how to prepare for the onset of winter in the veggie garden, and shift from the summer weeding and watering routine into the harvest and protection routine of fall.
The main concern is frost (temps below 32 degrees F), which will kill certain plants, and strengthen others. My advice is to harvest the frost tender (those that are hurt by frost) crops as often as you can, as soon as they are ripe. If your crops are still ripening, you can employ the use of row cover aka remay, which is spun polyester cloth that helps hold in heat, and is used as a blanket over tender crops. Some crops are tall (like tomatoes or pole beans), and you gotta get creative in covering them. Clothespins and binder clips are handy for attaching the cloth to trellises and structures around the plants. Shorter crops like peppers, bush beans and eggplants can be covered the same way, or you can make a low tunnel like this, using remay or clear plastic over hoops to support the cloth, creating a mini greenhouse.
I have also surrounded pepper and eggplant plants with haybales to create a little “house”, which I then cover with remay to form a kind of roof. Peppers often start to set tons of new fruits at the onset of fall, which is ironic, because for us Northeasterners this time of year is marked by frost, which can kill pepper plants. If you’ve got a hot pepper plant loaded with flowers and young fruits, it is also possible to carefully pot it up into a large planter filled with new potting soil, and bring it inside to finish ripening, as long as you’ve got a warm sunny room to keep it in. Here’s a list of crops that you’ll need to harvest or protect before a hard frost because they are not cold hardy (32 degrees F):
- crops in the nightshade family: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, ground cherries, tomatillos, potatoes
- beans and peas
- basil, cilantro
- summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, melons, winter squash
- fruits: peaches and plums
Here’s a list of crops that can stay in the garden without frost protection because they are cold hardy:
- crops in the brassica family: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, collards, turnips, radishes, mustard greens
- root crops: carrots, beets, parsnips, celery root, celery
- salad crops: arugula, spinach, lettuce, chicory, endive, Swiss chard
- alliums: onions, garlic, shallots, chives, leeks
- herbs: parsley*, dill, thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary*
- fruits: raspberries*, pears *and apples*
*can take frost but not freeze, so harvest or pot up and bring into the house
*note that freezing is different than a frost, and there are some crops that can stay in the garden well into winter. They are:
- kale, collards
- leeks and garlic
- spinach and arugula, under low tunnels
What are some of your tried and tested fall veggie tips? Share in the comments below.