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Gardening Guidance by GardenInMinutes

Plant Your Fall Garden Now: Ideal Fall Heirlooms to Plant

Seasons control when certain plants can grow and thrive. As the season changes, so must a garden’s contents. Fall brings cooler temperatures, changing colors, and preparation for the winter. It may be the end of summer, but it’s the beginning of your fall vegetable garden.

Fall gardens produce rich, rustic vegetables. They are more resilient to fluctuating, cooler temperatures than summer vegetables which prefer hotter temperatures. However, it’s important gardeners know how to protect their plants from radical temperature changes. Seasonal vegetables grow well within their season’s temperature range, but temperatures are liable to slip out of those ranges. When it becomes too hot or cold, gardeners have to take additional measures to protect their plants.

The following are a few heirloom vegetable varietals perfect for a fall garden as well as some protective measures against unusually cold temperatures.

 zones-2015

Photo Courtesy of: Arbor Day Foundation

 

Vegetables per USDA Hardiness Zones

Vegetables are generally categorized by season, but there are also regional aspects to consider. The USDA Hardiness Zones identify differentiating areas throughout the U.S. by their annual low temperatures. Zones 8-11 are more temperate lower temperatures such as the southern and western coasts.

Zones 5-7 are central to northern regions of the U.S. where low annual temperatures frequently reach below freezing. Because fall gardens grow into the winter months when the lowest temperatures are reached, you want to pick vegetables appropriate to your Hardiness Zone.

Bloomsdale SpinachAlbino BeetsDragon Carrots, and Snowball Y Cauliflower are perfect for zones 5-7. They can withstand your more severe cold better than others and can produce a harvest within 50-70 days.

Purple Top TurnipsSummer SquashAtlantic Broccoli, and Red Mini-Bell Peppers will thrive in zones 8-11. While not as cold hardy as the aforementioned plants, they still do well with cooler weather. They are known for their fast germination and growth periods, and some gardeners may see a harvest within 60-80 days.

To produce healthy fall plants and a bountiful harvest, begin planting fall vegetables in August to early September. As stated earlier, summer doesn’t end until mid-September, but you want your garden to be fully-transitioned by then.

Protecting Your Fall Vegetables

Mother nature can be arbitrary and temperatures can fall lower than anticipated. During late fall specifically, the temperature will drop and be dangerous to your non-acclimated fall vegetables.

Temperatures under 50 degrees along with wind-chill have a low potential for damaging your garden. 40 degrees or lower with wind-chill flirts with higher potential for damage, and 32 degrees or lower will most likely damage your vegetables. Gardeners almost always need to insulate gardens when temperatures drop below 40 degrees.

A thick, protective layer of mulch around your plants will defend the soil and roots from cold seeping in as well as insulate the remaining warmth. The roots are the most important part to protect because future growth starts from there. Leaves and stems may wither, but warm soil protects the root ball from dying. Adding a garden watering system at soil level aides in this temperature management since you can maintain soil moisture with water that is warmer than the air. 

 Raised Garden Greenhouse Framework

To protect the leaves and stems as well during an erratic cold front, cover your garden with a cotton sheet or plastic tarp. While cotton won’t adversely affect your plants with direct touch, you may want to use supports and latticework to support it. Similarly plastic tarps are generally heavier, but may hold temperature better since they are less porous. Ensure you have a support structure in place to avoid adding unneeded weight on the already stressed plant.


Authors: Wiley Geren III and Bryan Traficante. Bryan is co-founder at GardenInMinutes.com, where the family run company focuses on simplifying the process of starting a quality garden. Their tool-free, cedar raised garden bed kits and their pre-assembled Garden Grid™ watering system allows gardeners to start and grow a quality garden in minutes. In addition to unique gardening solutions, Bryan and the GardenInMinutes team provide time-saving gardening insights on their blog, Facebook, and Instagram pages.

Heirloom Varieties for Hot or Cold Climates

Gardeners can control the type of soil, seeds, watering schedule, and spacing within their gardens, but climate can be more difficult to regulate. Short of a greenhouse or indoor environment, home gardens are subjected to the seasons’ whims. Temperature is an influential gardening variable capable of nurturing or killing gardens depending on the plant selection. Plant varietals, like people, have preferences regarding their environment. Some enjoy cooler climates while others thrive in warmer temperatures.

Gardeners can find plants suitable to their region based on the season and the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The map identifies the lowest temperatures felt throughout the U.S. to narrow down what can and can’t be grown. After a gardener establishes their hardiness zone, they will have a clearer understanding of what temperature range the seasons are capable. Matching plants to their climate is not just advice, it’s necessary for the garden to thrive.

Organic and Heirloom

These terms are frequently used in marketing, produce descriptions, and seed sales, but the difference may not always be clear. Organic plants are grown under regulations prohibiting the use of sewage, genetically-fabricated materials, and synthetic fertilizers (among other standards depending upon the certifying body). Basically, organic plants are the product of organic materials and processes. Heirlooms are not defined by their growth, but by their heritage. They are open-pollinated seeds that reproduce bounty identical to the parent plant. In short, heirlooms come from one variety instead of a cross between two varieties. Which is “better” is a matter of opinion as they differ in taste, germination, season, bounty, and resiliency. In this article, heirloom varietals that perform better in different climates will be the major focus. Heirlooms are typically known for their taste, bright color, rich nutritional value, unique appearance, and the fact that they rely on small growers and gardeners for continued lineage. 

Different Potential for Different Climates

Every gardener is searching for the plants that work best for their region. Northern climates have shorter growing seasons, but also have very minimal risk of scorching their plants. Southern climates offer a longer growing season, but the heat can destroy crops and remove life-providing moisture from the environment. Gardeners who understand the risks can navigate them more easily and grow a more bountiful garden.

Tomatoes

Generally speaking, tomatoes are a warm-climate plant. They are known for withstanding heat and producing poorly in the cooler months. Tomatoes are mostly sown after the last frost has passed, giving the plant plenty of time to grow and produce multiple bounties before the autumn season ends. Heirloom varietals, such as the ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato, a sweet flavored and colorful fruit, will thrive in longer, hotter months. They will mature in 3 months and produce a hefty bounty through the heat’s help.

cherokee purple

However, there are tomatoes capable of growing in the cooler seasons. Varietals such as ‘Glacier’ and ‘Manitoba,’ for example, are heirlooms that prefer the cool to the usual heat. Glacier and Manitoba’s can be planted around an air temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and will germinate when the soil temperature reaches 70 degrees or higher. They are smaller, sweeter tomato plants that can bear fruit within 60 days of sprouting. For those gardeners in the northern U.S. hemisphere, ‘Glacier’ and ‘Manitoba’ tomatoes are the perfect start to a gardening season.

Glacier tomato 

Manitoba 

Eggplants

Eggplants generally prefer warmer temperatures. But, as evidenced by the different heirloom tomato varietals, there are eggplants that thrive in colder temperatures as well. For example, ‘Diamond’ grows well in the northern, shorter seasons and germinates easily. According to personal reviews from gardeners, ‘Diamond’ eggplants can survive temperatures under 50 degrees, which makes them perfect for regions with lower temperatures.

Diamond eggplant 

For gardeners who want a more traditional (e.g. warm weather) heirloom eggplant varietal, they can fill their garden with ‘Black Beauty’ eggplants. These dark purple eggplants are adapted to southern seasons, and can mature in as little as 74 days.

black beauty eggplant 

Beans

Fava bean plants break the typical bean mold due to their preference for cooler climates. Nearly all varietals are extremely hearty, requiring minimal water and able to weather frosts. They can grow up to 5 feet tall under the right conditions, such as temperatures under 70 degrees and moist soil. Plants that can tolerate cooler environments generally need to be planted after the last frost, but fava bean plants can be planted in the late autumn months. Pictured below is the ‘Masterpiece’ Fava bean.

Masterpiece fava bean 

Lima beans of nearly any varietal are perfect for gardeners in a warmer climate with longer growing seasons. Capable of growing in poor soil and dry conditions, they will mature in roughly 80 days. Lima beans — also known as butterbeans — are flat, green beans known for their resiliency. Pictured below is the ‘Jackson Wonder’ lima bean.

Jackson wonder lima bean

Gardening by Climate

Climate may be uncontrollable, but it’s also trackable. If a gardener is serious about growing strong heirlooms, some initial research is the key to success. Perusing the Farmer’s Almanac and checking your local hardiness zones will help narrow down plant options and season lengths. Although plants have general preferences, each plant varietal is different and may go against the usual growing guidelines. Technically, if a gardener wanted to grow tomatoes all year long, there are a variety of heirlooms that can be grown to correlate with the seasons (within reason). The result would be a tomato garden producing a wide variety of tomato types depending on the time of year.

Photos courtesy of www.RareSeeds.com.

Authors: Wiley Geren III and Bryan Traficante. Bryan co-founded GardenInMinutes.com in 2013, a family-owned venture focused on making it easier to start a quality garden with their tool-free, cedar raised garden bed kits and the Garden Grid™- the only planting guide and garden irrigation system in one. In addition to unique gardening solutions, Bryan and the GardenInMinutes team provide time-saving gardening insights on their blog, Facebook, and Instagram pages.