Plan Now To Plant For Fall: Beating The Frost Down East

It was really just two weeks ago that I was bemoaning the heat and here I sit, wearing a sweater and pulling out the flannel sheets. I have lived in New England all of my sixty-one years and yet it still catches me by surprise, the sudden shift from hot to cool, tee shirt to sweater weather, summer garden to thoughts of fall. We plant three times here at Barefoot Farm.

Barefoot Farm Seasons
The first is the fake planting. It’s the one where I believe the warm weather and snow-free soil. Inevitably, I pop in the peas and early greens and, just as inevitably, they rot or freeze. I wait a few weeks and try again. The warmed soil rewards me with tiny, sweet peas and snippings of spinach just when my body is crying out for something fresh.

The second planting is the main crop. It’s a monster of a job. Potatoes and squash and beans and tomatoes, the list goes on. Some start in the greenhouse before venturing outside. Others go straight in the ground. It takes a few weeks to get the main planting done. I just about finish planting when it’s harvest time, at least for some of the fast-maturing things. And the harvest of one thing leads right into the harvest of something else. One would think I deserved a break in here someplace but it isn’t meant to be. Today, I finished up with the peach canning and realized that it’s time to start planting for the winter garden.

Up here in the cold Northeast, that means cover of some sort. Lucky gardeners in southerly zones can grow into late fall without worry!

We have two small greenhouses but before we had those we made do with cobbled together row covers. So what do I plant now? The days are shorter and the nights downright cool. It’s the perfect time for some old standbys. Kale grows well in the cold weather and tastes better for a light frost or two. I’ll put in some late cabbage and some fast growing spinach too. I have some tomatoes that I started late. They are just blossoming now and I hope to have ripe tomatoes for Thanksgiving. The Asian greens do well in the greenhouse as do chard and leeks. I don’t have a lot of space to play with but used wisely, even a few square feet can provide a fair amount of food.

There are few tricks to keep the soil producing. The first is to toss in some compost. The bedding from the rabbit hutch is great fertilizer. I make sure to give the plants plenty of water too. A foliage spray of fish emulsion is useful for greenhouse growing. I have had problems with aphids and find that if I want to avoid spraying I have to add some ladybugs just about now. Once aphids take up housekeeping, they are mighty hard to get rid of. If you can find some Praying Mantis, they make good house guests too.

You have to be mindful of the heat. On a sunny day, the temperature can soar in a little glass house so check it often and open doors and vents. It’s also important to harvest. One year I let all of my winter greens bolt because I didn’t snip them back often enough.

Don’t have a greenhouse? You can still grow a winter garden. A sheltered spot might give you space for a couple of kale plants. Plant covers, like Hot Kaps and Wall O’ Water will keep tender seedlings cozy until they’re stronger and better able to handle the cooler temperatures.

A row cover could keep plants producing well into December. Root crops like carrots and beets don’t mind a light freeze either. Indoors, it possible to grow lots of plants in containers or on south-facing porches. Some herbs do well inside. Rosemary makes a lovely house plant and I’ve kept a basil plant happy for months. Just think. A greenhouse ripened tomato with a few leaves of basil in November. What a treat that would be!

Kathy Harrison

About Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison is the author of Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson for both foster parenting and family preparedness and has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and National Public Radio. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.