10 Tips for Organic Fall Gardening Success

Top 10 Tips for Successful Fall Gardening

Lettuce
Lettuce. Photo courtesy of Dwight Sipler

1. Start From Seeds to Save Money

Planting seeds can mean significant savings compared to started plants. For example, one 6-pack of peas at a local garden center costs $4. That is .67 cents per plant. I can buy a package of organic pea seeds for about $2 for 50. Even if only 50% of the seeds grow successfully into seedlings that cost you just under $.10 per plant. One-sixth the cost.

2. Plant Unique Varieties Adapted to Your Region

Do you have quick, hard winter frosts?

Long, warm falls? Whatever your unique regional challenges are, chances are there is a unique variety of the plant you want that is especially adapted to that region. If you have cold and wet falls you’ll want a plant that is mildew resistant, for example. If you have warmer weather through much of early fall, plan to plant varieties that show bolt-resistance or drought tolerance. Heirloom seeds have been carefully selected to produce in specific regions so use that to your benefit for a better garden.

3. Plant Extra to Ensure Success

If you hope to harvest 10 plants, put 20 into the ground. This gives you greater flexibility when fighting pests and diseases, or in case some seeds don’t germinate well. Fall gardens are often subject to heavier predation from rabbits and deer who have fewer wild options for food as well, so be prepared ahead of time by planting extras. Worst-case scenario, you have extras to freeze, can, or share with a friend!

4. Use Organic Pest Control Sprays as Alternatives to Harsh Chemicals

Dishwashing detergent, or a simple garlic infusion in your water spray bottle, can help repel sucking insects like aphids. Anytime you can switch a harsh and toxic chemical, for an organic alternative, your garden will benefit.

5. Rotate Crops in the Garden

If you planted lettuce in the first row of the garden in the spring, then plant the lettuce somewhere else in the fall garden.

When you rotate the crop families in your garden, it will help prevent a build-up of pests and diseases, keep your soil healthier, and make for a more productive garden in general. We rotate our crops each season, not just each year, so we never plant a crop from one family in the same soil it lived in earlier that year. This keeps everything as healthy as possible and keeps pests to a minimum.

6. Water Shallow-Rooted Plants Frequently and Mulch to Preserve Moisture

Some vegetables in the fall garden are very shallowly rooted in the soil. Lettuce and Broccoli are good examples, and neither tolerates any drought periods at all. Not only will you need to potentially water these plants more frequently than other vegetables in your fall garden, but you will want to take measures to preserve the moisture you provide. If you don’t typically mulch a fall garden, you might still want to mulch your lettuce to help prevent evaporation of the water you are giving.

7. Know Your Zone

Be sure you know your gardening zone and what that means in terms of your project first frost date and overall winter temperatures. Some fall produce like kale and cabbage, can tolerate frost with ease. In fact, most gardeners report an improvement in taste after some frost.

Knowing the projected temperatures in your region, and what your garden vegetables will tolerate, allows you to grow as much as possible each year.

8. Give Plants a Boost Before Winter Sets In

Make a batch of compost tea to give your plants a boost in growth before winter sets in and growth slows down too much. Compost tea is made from adding about 4 Cups of rich, organic compost to a 5-gallon bucket filled 2/3 full of water. Optionally, you can add in 2 Tablespoons organic molasses for micro-nutrients. Stir thoroughly with an aerator like a fish aquarium would use, to encourage the growth of beneficial microbes and prevent an anaerobic environment. Strain out the dirt and debris by pouring the mixture into another bucket through a cheesecloth or loose-weave muslin cloth and then apply to your fall garden.

Many gardeners swear by spraying the mixture onto the leaves to prevent aphids and other pests!

9. Grow Successive Crops

Every 2-3 weeks you should be planting additional seeds for quick-growing greens like lettuce, spinach, and chard. This allows you to harvest continually for as long as the weather will allow. Successive crops also help you make the most of the space in your garden, especially for shallow-rooted plants. For example, I can plant a new start of lettuce between two almost-mature lettuce plants and when I harvest the full-grown lettuce plants, there’s another plant between them to grow up and take the place. It’s easy enough to harvest them without disturbing the up and coming seedlings.

10. Plant a Variety of Plants

One thing I’ve noticed as a gardener is that no single plant does amazingly well every single year. There are always fluctuations in weather, pest levels, and potential diseases in the area, which will affect different plants in different ways. As an organic gardener, I’ve had the best success when I plant a diverse mix of plants in the garden. That way, if one thing fails, other plants can pick up the slack and might perform a lot better.

With these ten tips, you’ll be well on your way towards a successful organic fall garden. What are your favorite tips for gardening success? Pop over the Edible Landscaping Guide group and share your best tips.