It’s August and in Michigan and other northern states it’s time to decide if you want a fall vegetable garden. Yes- a vegetable garden that you plant in the fall, some people do that. You need to decide soon because there isn’t that many days left in our growing season. But do you really want and need a fall vegetable garden?
Let’s take some time to discuss the pros and cons of fall vegetable gardens so you can make informed decisions.
The cons of fall vegetable gardens.
For a lot of gardeners August is a miserable time to work in the garden. It’s hot and full of mosquitoes and the beach is calling your name. If you have a hard time keeping the garden weeded or even collecting your gardens harvest, you probably aren’t keen to start a new garden. Many people are going nuts trying to preserve the harvest they are reaping from their spring garden. And that’s all right; you don’t need to feel guilty. As you finishing harvesting parts of your garden weed them, pile compost and manure on them and let them rest.
Some people plant a cover crop on unused garden beds but if you are going to that trouble you might as well grow something you can eat such as kale or beets. And then you have basically decided to have a fall garden. There might not be a harvest to worry about but cover crops will need to be mowed or killed before winter and that takes work too.
You’ll need space for your fall vegetable garden. If you have empty beds you are all set. But waiting for a crop to be finished so that you can use the space for a fall garden may take longer than you planned. And tilling up new areas probably is more work than you want to do in August.
Fall vegetable gardens are always a gamble anyway. An early hard frost hits and you have done a lot of work for nothing. Cool and rainy fall weather won’t make some crops happy. It’s often hard to find seeds this time of year to sow fall crops and starter plants are even scarcer. If it all seems like too much work to you then it probably is. Go on, wrap it up for the season and rest with your garden soil.
The pros of fall vegetable gardens
Some people however may not have had time to plant a garden in the spring or for some reason their spring garden was ruined. These people may feel that their gardening urges are unfulfilled and are ready and eager to plant a vegetable garden in the fall. Or you may be worried that you don’t have enough fresh produce for the winter and want to add to your stores. And you may just be bored and want to escape from household duties or your spouse for a few more weeks. For you folks a fall vegetable garden makes sense.
Not every vegetable crop is suitable for a fall crop. Some won’t produce fruit if the daylight is getting shorter as it does in the fall. Some crops won’t have time to mature before a hard frost kills them. A good tip to keep in mind is to use day neutral varieties, (which means the length of daylight doesn’t affect them) and use varieties that have the shortest days to maturity.
In Michigan planting zones 5 and 6 you will probably have 8-10 weeks before a hard frost if you plant in early August. Some crops don’t mind a light frost and some can be protected with row covers before light frost. Crops that can be planted with a reasonable expectation of success include leafy greens of many types, kale, cabbage ( early maturing varieties and started as plants), beets, turnips, radishes, carrots, green onions, peas, bush beans ( early maturing varieties and you may need row cover), broccoli and cauliflower- (early varieties).
Remember that seeds sown in hot August weather may need daily watering to get them to germinate. Before you plant you should add some vegetable garden fertilizer to the bed, especially if it was already used this spring. Don’t plant a crop in a bed that the same crop grew in in the spring or you are asking for disease and insect problems.
An alternative to a fall vegetable garden in the ground might be a few containers of things like salad greens and scallions. Then you can get the regular garden cleaned up and covered in compost and manure, while still munching fresh produce. And containers are easier to cover when frost threatens or you may be able to move them inside a garage or shed for the night.
So the decision rests on you. You can harvest your crops, add manure and compost and head off to the family cabin. Or you can get out there and start a whole new garden. Which will it be?
Here are some additional articles you may want to read.
Don’t stop weeding
How to help save the Monarch Butterfly
Want to know your planting zone?
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