Sometimes when I walk around my garden this time of year I feel like I’m in a cheap brothel. The aging working girls are splayed out in their bright, tawdry attire, a little frayed about the edges. The plants are all a bit tired, a tad overripe, but the hornets and bees are still zipping from flower to flower, going about their business, spreading pollen all over the place. All around me, luscious, full fruit is rampant for picking. Yet hiding under these layers of riotous color, within the heavy perfume permeating the still, warm air, there is a touch of sadness. Winter is coming.
The decadence of the late summer garden almost seems to have nothing to do with the controlled sparseness of the early spring planting from whence it began. Where once there were neat little rows of seedlings and newly pruned trees now there are bushy vines trailing over their posts and weedy plants flinging pods across the paths. It is almost impossible to see the rich brown earth, so covered is it by the green of foliage, whether those we planted months ago or the insidious weeds we have given up fighting. Normally, we associate this season with harvesting–our baskets overflowing with fresh, just-picked produce from garden or market. But the season for growing in much of the country is not yet entirely over, and if we time things right we can extend our harvest right up until (or even somewhat past) the first frost and also get a jump-start on next spring. The following is an approximate guide for planting opportunities in late summer/early fall based on an average first frost date of mid-October (adjust accordingly for earlier or later first frost dates in your area).
Late August Planting
- Beet – can be planted into the fall season if grown with protection such as a cloche or hoop house.
- Endive – Plant as soil temperatures begin to cool and keep soil moist for best germination results
- Lettuce – can be planted into September but yields decline significantly (see companies often sell specific mixes for late summer/early fall plantings)
- Mustard – best sown in a nursery bed and then transplanted throughout the garden
- Spinach – planting at this time produces yummy greens in October
- Turnip – fall roots are extra sweet!
Early–Mid September Planting
- Arugula – versatile, quick green that will re-seed and emerge early the following spring
- Cress – rapid-growing green that can be planted into winter if grown under cloches or a hoop house
- Radish – quick-growing roots have milder flavor in cool soils
- Spinach – planting at this time produces small plants in the fall that go dormant during the winter and resume growing in early spring.
- Corn salad– another green that will overwinter if row-covers are used.
While we can’t hold onto our succulent tomatoes or our colorful flowers throughout the cold, harsh winter (well, not without a greenhouse), at least by planting now we can remind ourselves of the promise of harvests in the future. No matter what, there will always be another spring.