Is it too late to plant a garden?

By mid-August, temperatures begin to cool and rainfall is more abundant. These are perfect conditions for what are referred to as “fall crops.” Pexels

Dear Aggie, I just moved into a new home. Is it too late to plant a garden?

A: No, it is not too late! You won’t be able to grow all of the vegetables commonly planted in northern New York, but you will be able to grow and harvest cool season crops that mature quickly. In fact, most cool season crops do poorly in the heat of summer and are best planted in either early spring or late summer. By mid-August, temperatures begin to cool and rainfall is more abundant. These are perfect conditions for what are referred to as “fall crops.”

Spinach is the star of the autumn garden and can be direct-seeded in late summer. If you forget, you can buy transplants to set out in early fall. Spinach will withstand temperatures of 15 to 20 degrees. As a result, it can often be harvested well into November. If you cover your fall spinach crop with a low tunnel or mulch, it will overwinter to the following spring. That will give you a head start on fresh salads next year. One Cape Vincent grower plants spinach in a high tunnel, covers it with a floating row cover, and consistently harvests spinach in February!

Brassicas like collards, arugula, and kale can be planted in August for fall and early winter harvest. They can be planted about three weeks before the average fall frost date. Just like spinach they will overwinter if provided protection, providing a jump start in the spring. Interestingly, the flavor of these brassicas becomes sweeter once they are subjected to frosty temperatures. As the temperature drops, brassicas produce more sugar, which serves as a type of antifreeze in their leaves. These brassicas can also be overwintered with mulch and row covers.

Lettuce is not as cold hardy as the previously mentioned greens. Nonetheless, if it is planted in mid-August, it will supply salad leaves well into October. Planting in low tunnels and cold frames will help protect lettuce from hard frosts, further extending your harvest.

Beyond greens, there are other options. If planted eight to 10 weeks (early August) before the average frost date, peas are a great fall crop. Most varieties mature in 50 to 60 days. Since they are planted slightly earlier than other fall crops, make sure you keep them well-watered during germination and early growth.

Radishes are quick late season crop. Most varieties mature in about 25 days. Also consider salad turnips, which only take 40 days to mature. Fall turnips are much sweeter than traditional turnips.

Another crop to consider is garlic, though you won’t harvest it until next summer. Garlic is planted in late fall for harvest the following July. Hard or stiffneck garlic cloves should be planted in early November just before the ground begins to freeze. Exposure to winter temperatures is required for plants to develop a root system. Planting too early can result in the bulbs sprouting too soon, resulting in the plants being nipped off by hard freezes.

In general, there are fewer pests in a fall garden with one exception — mammals. As natural foods dwindle, fall crops become a prime target for hungry deer, rabbits, voles, and mice trying to put on weight before the winter. These critters will eat leafy greens and peas to the ground. 8-foot fencing will deter deer. Placing chicken wire at the base of your garden fence will help exclude rabbits. Mice and voles can be most difficult to control though traps baited with seeds will help.

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