Fall Food Garden & Harvest Tips
With the cold weather approaching and winter’s chill just around the corner, gardeners around Canada are starting to pack it in. But, what you may not know is that you can still flex your green thumb during the winter blues.
Plant in the fall!
- • 2-4 weeks before first frost plant: peas, onions, spring onions, spinach, fava beans and kale. Mulch lightly with compost, straw or leaves to keep your new seeds warm. These can be harvested in early spring.
• 2-4 weeks before first frost plant garlic, add mulch generously and harvest in the summer.
• Try making or buying seed balls with your kids! All you need to do is mix compost with dry clay, seeds and water. Toss onto the surface of bare soil to give seeds a boost of nutrients and protection from mice and birds. You can mulch lightly if desired.
Heat things up
Support your plants by making microclimates or greenhouse effects by:
- • Creating heat “traps” that help ripen fall crops. You can do this outdoors by placing your plants against south facing walls or on a south facing window sill in the sun.
• Protecting plants from wind and making the low temperatures less damaging by setting up tarp walls to protect your garden, or planting near low walls to block wind.
• Also note that thermal masses (e.g. brick walls, patio, wood paneling) concentrates and radiates heat for frost protection, so keep this in mind when planning where to plant your garden.
Extend the season
Seasonal extension let’s you produce a continued variety and garden harvest as temperatures lower. It spreads garden workload throughout the year and can provide you with a healthy, nutritious and reliable food supply in the “off” seasons. The health of your winter garden will depend on how well you protect it from Canada’s blistery winter frost.
You can extend your season by:
- • Creating favourable microclimates as outlined above.
• Choosing varieties that enhance yield during the frosty months. These include: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cabbage, lettuces, radish and spinach.
• Using Hot Beds and greenhouses to aid in early germination of spring transplants or to help ripen summer crops like tomatoes and peppers early. It’ll also help extend your growing season well into autumn. You can check out a how-to video here.
• Utilizing Shade Frames and trellises to protect summer transplants. This can be as simple as using walls, leaves and tree overhangs to protect plants against frost.
Photo courtesy of weedemandreap.com
• Creating Row Covers to help keep heat in and pests out. When cold temperatures are predicted, place a row cover over plants in the morning. Doing so, holds the warmth that builds up during the day. You can watch a DIY video on building row covers at home. Secure the edges with heavy objects, like wood or rocks. If you don’t have access to row covers you can reuse everyday household objects like water jugs or plastic bags.
Bring your garden indoors
No need to waste what’s in your garden! Here are some easy ways to store your garden’s bounty come fall:
- • Transplant herbs like basil, marjoram, coriander and tarragon indoors so they don’t die off in the winter. However, you can leave herbs like mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme and sage out all year round once they’re established. Just be sure to gauge the weather conditions!
• Some ripening can happen off the plant too. Green tomatoes still on the vine will turn red on your windowsill.
• Some plants are better if you leave them in the ground over the winter - carrots, parsnips, kale, and sweet potatoes all taste sweeter if they’ve had a chance to freeze in the ground first.
• Save seeds to conserve plant diversity for future generations and select plants that are successful in your garden’s microclimate. Check out Seeds of Diversity Canada for info on how.
Jane is a permaculture designer, educator and social entrepreneur. She helps community leaders and non-profit teams design and implement healthy food & garden programs, and teaches permaculture, through Garden Jane. Through Hoffmann Hayes, she works with developers and corporations to design and implement condo community gardens and farmers' markets.