(ARA) - You might think the end of summer means bidding farewell to fresh, homegrown veggies. Not so - many cool-season crops hit their heyday as autumn temperatures drop, and some even taste better when nipped by a light frost.
As long as their basic growing conditions are met, vegetable plants don't care what season it is. If you live in a warmer climate, you may be able to grow your fall garden all winter long. If, however, you live in a colder area, your growing season will be shorter.
In most regions of the country, gardeners plant fall vegetables in August or September for harvest in October and November. You'll need to carefully calculate your growing season so you can ensure plants have time to produce before freezing weather arrives. Generally, you should plant fall vegetables when daytime temperatures range between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (the cooler the better); night temperatures should be above 40 degrees, and you'll need enough sunshine to ensure plants will get at least six hours of sun per day. You'll also need to give plants at least an inch of water per week.
To get started, remove all the debris left over from your summer garden so fall crops have plenty of room to grow. Add compost to your garden beds and landscapes. Soil should be light, well-aerated and well-draining - since fall gardens are more likely to get soggy from rain. Mulch will keep the soil cool and moist during the last days of summer.
You can also mix in an all natural fertilizer like Bonnie Plants, Herb and Vegetable Plant Food, made from soybean oilseed extract, known to contain 150,000 nutritional and organic compounds that include vitamins, minerals, amino acids and proteins, enzymes, plant hormones and carbohydrates. All are vital to plant growth. Next, find out your local frost and freeze dates. For most areas, frost doesn't have to end the fall growing season. Monitor your local weather forecast during late September and early October so you know when frost is coming.
Once you know your local frost and freeze dates, you can begin planning - and planting - your fall garden. Remember, when growing vegetables in the fall, plants need to be in the ground in time to mature before the first frost, and to yield most of their harvest before the first heavy freeze. Some cool-season crops mature in as little as 30 to 40 days, while others may take several months to produce.
Since time is of the essence when planting a fall garden, start out with transplants that are already growing. Choose fast-maturing varieties, like Bonnie Plants, to get the most for your harvest. The gardening experts at Bonnie suggest these fall crops:
* Winterbor kale - This vigorous producer weathers winter easily, even in very cold climates. Cut outer leaves so that the center can continue growing. Space transplants about 12 inches apart
* Georgia collards - Another leafy green similar to kale, Georgia collards are prized for their sweet, cabbage-like flavor. Space transplants 36 inches apart.
* Romaine lettuce -- Romaine packs more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients than other popular types of lettuce. Space transplants 18 inches apart.
* Early dividend broccoli - Popular, productive and easy to grow, this broccoli is high in fiber and calcium. Set transplants 18 inches apart.
* Mustard greens - Offering spicy hot leaves, this is a very fast-growing, nutritious vegetable. Mustard greens always taste sweeter when nipped by frost. Space plants 12 inches apart.
* Bonnie hybrid cabbage - Bonnie's best cabbage is high in beta-carotene, vitamins C and K, and fiber. Space transplants 24 inches apart.
* Arugula - These fast-growing leafy greens are super-food for your bones. The leaves are "nutrient dense" and low in calories. Leaves grow best in cool weather.
As winter grows closer, you can extend your garden harvest by using floating row covers on frosty nights, or by planting in containers that can be brought indoors overnight. Be ready with some kind of protection to cover your plants. You can opt for something commercially manufactured, such as cloches, polyethylene blankets and corrugated fiberglass covers, or try simple household items like old towels, bed sheets, or even used plastic milk jugs with the bottoms removed.
You can continue to enjoy fresh, homegrown vegetables through fall and even into winter when you start with some expert knowledge and the right plants. To learn more about growing a fall garden visit www.bonnieplants.com.