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Late Fall Gardening

October 17, 2013
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Radishes tolerate cooler temperatures and are a quick crop

There are a few tomatoes left on the vine, fall and winter are setting in, and you may think that the gardening season is over in western Pennsylvania. But that’s only true if you stop planting your garden with veggies. There are many greens and root veggies that thrive in the fall, and even last into the freezing months. There are also techniques that can extend your gardening season into cold weather.

Some cool-weather gardening requires planning ahead and sowing seeds inside during the summer. Slow-growing or long-season crops, such as leeks or brussel sprouts, will need to be started as early as July. Carrots and turnips can be started at the beginning of September. Allowing these crops a couple of months of above-freezing temperatures and long daylight hours will allow them to get established. However, once they have established, they can continue to grow to maturity as long as the ground does not freeze and the foliage is protected from freezing wind.

Greens like kale and collards can withstand a light freeze. A frost will actually improve kale's flavor.

Greens like kale and collards can withstand a light freeze. A frost will actually improve kale’s flavor.

Start seeds for cold-hardy greens in September as well, and transplant them in early October – right as you take out your peppers or eggplants. Greens such as spinach, kale, tatsoi, endive, and mache can fill this garden space, grow well in cool weather, and can be continuously harvested as the temperatures drop. Radishes, another fast-growing crop, can be sown directly in place in September and harvested in October.

Protecting your cold-hardy plants from winter temperatures can further extend the growing season. Try investing in a row cover, which is a roll of clear plastic supported by metal or plastic hoops over the plants – like a miniature greenhouse. A row cover or hoop house, which is a more permanent structure, will protect the plants from winter wind and capture heat.

Cold frames function much like row covers. A cold frame is a bottomless box, usually constructed of wood with a hinged glass or plastic lid. The frame is placed over the plant, and the lid can be raised to harvest or water the plants. Row covers and cold frames can have you pulling up turnips and rutabagas even when snow is on the ground.

If you are new to fall and winter gardening, start with some spinach and radishes and see how long they continue to grow. Your fall garden may become as successful as your summer plantings!

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