Plan Now for a Fall Harvest

Susan L – Garden Editor
Susan L – Garden Editor

Just like the merchants who start displaying the back to school fashion lineup when it's still beachwear weather, school gardeners who want enjoy a fall vegetable harvest need to think ahead during summer's heat to cooler times to come. A little planning and planting beginning in midsummer can pay big dividends when students return at the end of the summer by allowing the school garden harvest to continue into the fall or even winter months, depending on your climate and the protection you give your crops.

There are lots of veggies that can be sown from mid to late summer on into early fall to provide tasty eating in the months to come. Beets, cilantro, kohlrabi, broccoli, spinach, carrots, chard, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, radishes, turnips, lettuce, and hardy greens like arugula and mizuna are all cold-tolerant plants that will take light frost. And some crops, such as kale and Brussels sprouts actually taste sweeter when harvested late in the season after they have been touched by frost. In areas with mild winters, like southern California, the Gulf Coast, and warm parts of the Southwest, you may even be able to grow cold tolerant crops throughout the winter.

kohlrabiTo figure out when to plant in order to reap a harvest before temperatures drop too low, you will need to do a little simple math. (Sorry – I know it’s still summer vacation!) Start by finding the days to maturity (DTM) for the particular crop and variety you plan to grow. This information is listed on the seed packet and tells you how long on average it takes to go from seed sowing to harvest. For example, Black-seeded Simpson lettuce takes 45 days to reach maturity (only 28 days if you plan to harvest it at the “baby” stage).

Next, figure out the average date of the first fall frost in your area. While tender crops like beans and basil will be killed by light frost (32 degrees F), cool season crops like those listed above will survive until hard frost, when temperatures dip to 28 degrees F or lower. Especially hardy kale, cabbage, collards, and Brussels sprouts can withstand hard frosts, but will usually be killed when temperatures get down to 20 degrees F or lower. To determine when these temperatures arrive in your area, check with your local Extension Service or check out information available online from NOAA.

RadishOkay, now it’s time to sharpen your pencil and get figuring! Starting with the DTM, add on 14 days as a “fall factor.” This takes into account the slower growth of plants as the days get cooler and shorter in fall. Then add in a harvest period, generally between 7-14 days. This will give you the total number of days needed for growing and harvesting your crop. Count back this number of days from the date of your first killing frost and – voila! – you’ve arrived at your planting date.

Chard-kidsHere’s an example. Where I live in Vermont, there’s a 50% chance that temperatures will drop to 28 degrees F by October 7. So if I want to plant some of that Black-seeded Simpson lettuce for fall harvest, I add up 45 days (the DTM) + 14 days (the fall factor) + 10 days (harvest period) to arrive at 69 days. Then I count back 69 days from October 7 to arrive at a planting date of July 30 for full size plants and as late as September 8 for “baby” plants. And since the actual frost date varies each year, I’ll plant some seeds even later and keep my fingers crossed – if I’m lucky and frost holds off I’ll get an extended harvest. If you’re fortunate enough to have a cold frame or tunnel to protect your plants, you can push your planting dates forward, often by two to three weeks or more.

So remember, even though the weather is in the 90s and the garden is overflowing with zucchini and tomatoes, when you see the bathing suits go on sale, it's time to think about planting for fall! For more details, check out Plan for a Back-to-School Harvest.

Lessons Learned and The Little Things

Andrea W – Creative Director
Andrea W – Creative Director

It’s time to admit to the world that I am only an amateur gardener. As a child, I spent quite a few summers helping my grandmother in her garden. But clearly I learned more about my love for vegetables from those years than how to properly care for the garden.

In May, I started to weed an old raised bed behind my apartment building, only to remember a lesson learned at a recent KidsGardening garden installation: Moss = Shade. This mossy bed didn’t get enough sun for the crops I wanted to plant there. I promptly asked the owner of the barn where I board my horse if I could use her two raised beds for my garden. She said yes (and will get half of the harvest as a thank-you). And so I began my very first garden adventure as an adult. Needless to say, I still have a lot to learn!

Plan-ting Accordingly

With the guidance of my KidsGardening colleagues, I purchased an assortment transplants from Gardener’s Supply including; tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and broccoli. I also had a variety of squash, pea and lettuce seeds from High Mowing Seeds. I had planned to plant the seeds in raised bed #1 and the transplants in raised bed #2, but that’s as far as I got with my planning.

I landed myself in a muddy, rushed and humorous situation come planting day. The day was overcast, the raised beds were weedy and I was determined. But by the time the beds were weeded and the compost was mixed into the beds, it had begun to rain. Determined and ruthless, I got everything planted. Despite slipping a few times in the infamous Addison County clay, all I could think to myself once the job was done was, “Well, at least I don’t have to lug out that watering can tonight!”

Hills and Valley’s

I was quite proud of myself for planting in a rainstorm and for how nice the raised beds looked now. One day the farm owners pointed out that I had planted in the valleys, not the hills... thus, I gained another nickname – “Valley Girl.” Despite this mistake, I regained hope that my garden would be okay when I saw the strong sprouts popping out from the ground.


After six short weeks, the garden was flourishing! I was so proud, but I realized how crowded the beds were becoming even though I was weeding regularly. Looking back, in the rush of planting in the rain, I had ignored the planting directions on the labels and seed packets. Another lesson learned, and now I had to find a solution to my mistake. A few DIY trellis’ later, along with some judicious thinning, and my plants seemed much happier!

Lessons Learned and The Little Things

I was raised to learn from my mistakes, and have I ever learned a few things from my gardening adventures this summer! The biggest lesson learned is that gardening is all about planning. Plan for the weather, for the layout of your garden, for the plant spacing, and for gardening materials you will need as your garden continues to flourish.

In spite of the mistakes I made, I learned to appreciate the little things that these two raised beds brought my way. The little things like spending quality time with the barn owner, the excitement of seeing the first few sprouts, the chance to sit and relax while weeding and watching the horses graze, the realization of how much I meant to this little farm, or the numerous beautiful sunsets over the green peaks of Snake Mountain. I am truly grateful for my very first garden adventure as an adult, the lessons I’ve learned and the harvest to come!

To Everything A Season

Larry K – IT Director

Beginning in July, it is peak strawberry season in New England. I’m reminded again how gardening is a seasonal activity. It has been a year since we have had fresh strawberries, and I’ve forget how good they smell and how sweet they taste. But now strawberries are here and I will have them every day in the breakfast bowl, and in company of pie crust, sugar and rhubarb, in the form of strawberry-rhubarb pie, and freshly sliced with Ben and Jerry's vanilla ice cream. In our family we also allow ourselves one round of strawberry shortcake at the beginning of the season, using powder milk biscuits, local butter, strawberries and fresh whipped cream.

This lasts for an intense few weeks before the strawberries disappear for another year.

With blueberries we aren't as disciplined, and we succumb occasionally to the blueberries from "away". They appear, pale, thin and hard, shipped from Chile and Mexico, as early as March. A few weeks later, plumper and tastier ones come from Michigan and New Jersey. Finally, our local farmed ones will appear in mid-July, and they will last through much of August. We supplement the farmed blueberries with wild blueberries that we pick in Maine. The wild blueberries are smaller and a little harder, but still delicious.

My grandfather raised raspberries at his summer place. He had a patch with several rows of bushes. As a crop they seemed fussy, the bushes required maintenance and pruning, and the soil needed fertilizer and mulch. But they certainly tasted wonderful, and he would freeze cartons of the berries for use all year round.

Non-fussy raspberries show up in the wild and along roadsides. Wild raspberries are a regular treat for hikers and campers in the summer. It's not unusual to pass a trail-side patch when hiking in the mountains. If we keep walking, we grab as we go. But if we have a little more time, we'll remove our packs, and spend a few minutes gathering and eating as many as we can.

The compensation for such a brief interval of berries are the local harvests to come, especially sweet corn and tomatoes. As we cycle through the seasons, each crop brings an interval of anticipation and enjoyment. We delight in their peak growth and freshness, enjoy for a few weeks, and then have to wait another year before the season rolls around again.

Illustrations by Larry Keyes

Go Native!

Susan L – Garden Editor

Fireworks! Flags! Parades! Barbecues!  It’s no wonder the Fourth of July is a favorite holiday for most kids.  But along with the fun, we try to make sure our children understand that amid all the hoopla we’re celebrating the freedoms we enjoy thanks to the dedication, foresight, and courage of our Founding Fathers.

Independence Day is also a good time to help our kids take patriotic pride in another benefit our country brings us –its amazing diversity of native plants. Stretching from the evergreen forests of Maine to the rain forests of Hawaii; from the Alaskan tundra to the Florida Everglades, in settings as various as grasslands, forests, deserts, and wetlands, native plants provide the habitat native creatures need to thrive. Bears and birds, bats and beavers, butterflies and bees – all depend on native plants in some way for food, shelter, and a place to rear their young.   

Exploring the native plant life in your part of the country makes an interesting and instructive summer family project. Start with a visit to your local library to find books on your region’s native flora or do some online exploration with your kids. Then set out to explore nearby natural areas such as parks and nature centers to see what’s growing. Give each child a small sketch pad and encourage them to make drawings and notes of the interesting things they observe. Help them think about the ways plants help wild creatures – a bee or butterfly visiting a flower is collecting nectar or pollen for food; berries dangling from the branches of shrubs are natural bird feeders; tall grass provides shelter from predators for small mammals like mice and voles; the leafy branches of trees offer nesting spots for birds and squirrels. What would all these creatures do without the wild plants to help them?

Then follow-up with a family planting project to add some native plants to your home landscape. You might begin with a site inventory. Are there native plants growing there already? What kinds of plants are they? What kinds of wildlife do they benefit? Then brainstorm together to come up with ideas for more native plants to add to your garden. Maybe your kids are excited about attracting butterflies to the garden. Or perhaps your initial research made them aware of the problems facing honeybees and native bees and they want to help. You and your kids can plant some native flowers to provide both food for these insects and pretty flowers to delight your eyes. If you have some budding birdwatchers at home try adding native shrubs that produce berries for food and provide shelter and nesting spots for winged visitors.

As an added benefit, native plants that are well-adapted to the conditions of light, soil, and moisture in your garden are also going to need a minimum of care. Once they get established they’ll generally do well without supplemental fertilizer and water and are less likely to have major insect and disease problems.

Why not try a little “patriotic planting” this summer? It will offer you and your kids lots of fun and a chance to help the wild native “citizens” of our wonderful country!