When people think of gardening, they typically think of hot, sunny summer days and sun-riped vegetables straight from the backyard to the kitchen. This is entirely understandable as most of us do our gardening when it’s nice outside.
However, growing vegetables and gardening doesn’t have to be solely a warm-weather activity.
Whether you want to continue gardening outside or bring plants into your warm indoor space, there are numerous things to do once the weather takes a turn in the autumn.
One way to continue gardening into the cooler season is to lengthen the regular growing season. This can be accomplished by using season extenders such as row covers or hoop tunnels to protect plants as the temperatures drop. Cool-season veggies and root crops will withstand cooler temperatures and even frost if protected.
Insulate the ground by putting mulch around the base of the plants—this keeps the soil temperature higher, preventing it from freezing and damaging the roots. Cover the tops of the plants with premade structures, or build your own using frames and greenhouse plastic. If you have small plants, cover each individual plant with a cloche.
Protecting your veggies this way allows you to harvest much further into the fall, or even winter, depending upon your plants and the local climate. Gardening doesn’t need to stop in late August or early September.
If you don’t want to extend your summer harvest past the first frost date, you could plant a fall garden to harvest through the winter. Plant winter crops early enough so that they are close to harvestable size by mid to late November. At this time, the daylengths shorten, and growth slows substantially because of the lessened sunlight.
To start with, you’ll need to take into account your winter climate. Areas with more mild winters can plant more crops than places that get frigidly cold and freeze. Choose cool-season vegetables to grow as winter crops. The best options are brassicas and root vegetables: beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, garlic, kale, leeks, parsley, parsnips, peas, spinach, and turnip.
Cover the garden area with a cold frame, hoop tunnels, row covers, or miniature greenhouses when temperatures begin to drop. Spread compost or mulch around the plants, and then harvest veggies when you want them. Root crops may survive all the way through so you can have an early spring harvest.
If you’re not a fan of trudging outside in the cold to harvest veggies from the garden, you can opt to grow some plants inside instead. Many different plants grow indoors in different ways, so you can find what best works for you. So go ahead and bring your winter garden inside!
Salad greens are an excellent choice for growing indoors. They are simple to grow, don’t require a lot of supplies, and quickly go from seed to harvestable greens. Plants like leaf lettuce, spinach, kale, and swiss chard love the temperatures inside homes compared to the higher outdoor temps in mid to late summer.
Start by filling wide, shallow containers with damp potting soil, and then sow seeds at the recommended spacing. Place containers in a spot where they’ll receive plenty of sunlight. Keep the potting mix moist without letting it get waterlogged. Plants are typically ready to harvest in about a month. For a continuous supply of fresh greens, plant new seeds every couple of weeks.
Microgreens are a great way to try indoor gardening if you’ve never container gardened or grown indoor plants before. These itty bitty baby plants are technically small seedlings that fall somewhere between sprouts and baby greens in terms of their size. Great microgreens to try are radish, mustard greens, broccoli, and peas.
These tiny pants are full of flavor and concentrated nutrients, so they are healthier than mature plants. After planting, they are ready to harvest within a couple of weeks, requiring much less commitment than full-sized plants.
Many people aren’t aware that you can easily grow numerous veggies from scraps that you usually toss in the trash. Instead of adding them to the landfill, try your hand at regrowing them and save a bit on your grocery budget. Celery, romaine lettuce, and green onions can be regrown in just a glass jar with fresh water.
Many places online break the process down into step-by-step instructions based on what you’re trying to grow.
Many gardeners buy a mix of seeds and seedlings to get their garden planted. Instead of buying plants, why not start plants inside that have longer growing times (i.e., they won’t mature if planted via seed once the weather is conducive) earlier in the spring? Not only are seeds less expensive, but it lets you garden through the winter.
To get started, you’ll need some planting trays or small peat pots designed for starting seeds, growing media—potting mix or coconut coir work well— and the seeds you want to plant. Tomatoes and peppers are great seeds to get started early. If your house doesn’t receive enough sunlight, purchase an inexpensive LED grow light to keep plants from getting “leggy.”
You can also do a handful of things in the garden in the “off-season” to get prepared for spring planting. Some of these tasks are not as interesting or enjoyable as tending to live plants, but they can help so you’re ready to go once the weather warms out and you can get outside to plant.
- After harvesting the garden in late July or early August, plant a cover crop to reduce soil erosion and weed growth through the winter. Plants will germinate and start growing but will be killed by the autumn frost. Let the plant material overwinter, and In early spring, work it in to add nitrogen to your garden soil. Good choices are hairy vetch, broad beans, clovers.
- Before the ground freezes in late fall, apply a few inches of well-rotted manure or compost to the soil, along with the recommended application of fertilizer. Work all of the amendments into the soil well. Adding them before winter gives the organic material time to start decomposing, and all nutrients have more time to become available for your spring plants.
- Winter is the perfect time to take on those DIY projects you never seem to have enough time for come spring. If you’ve got a warm, protected space like a garage, use this time to construct the frames for new garden beds or build trellises for your melons or cucumber plants. Once they’re made, store them inside or move them outdoors weather-permitting.