Community "Fall" Gardening
It’s that time of year when many spring crops have finished producing and a bare spot in the garden is left in their wake. But the fun doesn’t have to end yet! There is still time to turn that beautiful blank soil canvas into a fall garden masterpiece. Even though we have a shorter growing season here in Montana, fall gardening is still possible.
At Garden City Harvest, we don’t close down the gardens until October 24th. And even then, if you have some kale left standing or carrots under your mulch, you’re welcome to continue to use your plot as long as it’s cleaned up and looking good.
To start planning your fall garden you must first look closely at your seed packets and find the average days to maturity for the particular crop you want to plant. Many crops, such as cabbage, broccoli, and tomatoes, take too long to mature and there will not be enough heat and/or sunlight in our shorter days to boost them along. For the most part, you only want to plant crops that will mature before our first killing frost or that are cold-hardy and grow well in our hardiness zone. Missoula’s estimated first fall frost date is September 27 and we are in USDA Hardiness Zone 5b.
Fall crops that need some protection
The types of crops that will mature from seed in time to enjoy in the fall include:
- lettuce (most lettuces don’t germinate well when it’s very hot out, so consider planting these in a cooler area of your plot, where there is still some shade from other plants)
If planted soon these crops should begin maturing in time for fall, but you’ll want to keep your eye on night-time temps. The leafy greens on these crops need some protection from the cold. Try covering them up with reemay (a white gauzey cloth used for row cover) or even an old sheet or blanket. Covering these crops up at night will help keep their surrounding temperature just a few degrees warmer so they will survive through the night.
Cold-hardy and frost tolerant crops
These crops are a bit hardier and don’t need quite as much fussing. Some of them even taste a little sweeter after a frost hits them, such as kale.
- Asian greens, such as bok choi and tatsoi
Other fall gardening tips
If you are buying new seeds, keep a lookout for winter varieties. There are varieties of some crops that grow a bit faster and/or are more tolerant of colder temperatures. These varieties are perfect for your fall garden!
Use extra mulch around your fall crops, especially over top of carrots. The mulch helps keep the soil temperatures a couple degrees warmer.
Add some compost when planting new seeds to make sure there are still nutrients in the soil, especially if the space you are planting in was previously occupied by a heavy-feeder such as cabbage or broccoli.
For more information about fall gardening or winter seed varieties, check out some of these resources:
- Mother Earth News Winter Gardening Tips
- Mother Earth News Real-World Gardening tips from Zone 5 (these are actually tips from gardeners in Hardiness Zone 5 who filled out a gardening survey.)
- Mother Earth News Top Tips for Great Fall Gardens
- MSU Extension Can I Grow That Here?
Please leave us your fall community gardening tips in the comments below!