2018-08-16 / Opinions

Fall and winter vegetable gardens

By MICHAEL FOSTER
Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent

As the season progresses and we get closer and closer to fall August is the month to start to think about and plant fall/winter vegetable crops. Vegetables like carrots, beets, parsnips, onion, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflow- er, collards, and spinach are fantastic plants that can be established this time of year and can be harvested in the winter. Some people consider fall and winter gardening easier than spring plantings because there are fewer weeds to worry about, a reduced need for frequent watering, and cooler temperatures to work in.

The key to a successful winter garden is keeping soil temperatures warm enough for plants to reach maturity. This is especially true as the number of sunlight hours that plants see decreases as the fall and winter seasons approach. Having a raised bed garden or a container style garden can help insure warmer soil temperatures for fall/ winter plantings. Raised beds coupled with cloches or cold frames essentially create a miniature greenhouse and ensure warmer ground temperatures. However, if raised bed gardening is not an option we are fortunate here in the southeast because it takes a while for soil temperatures to fall below 40°F so traditional in-ground gardening can still be used for these plantings. Furthermore, use mulch to retain moisture and retain heat at the roots of the plant.

Timing is crucial when planning a winter vegetable garden. It is essential to know the first average frost date for our piece of Georgia. This can usually be determined by looking at a map of growing zones or consulting the Farmer’s Almanac. Frost dates influence time of planting for winter vegetables as well as harvest dates. Using the frost date and a calendar count back the number of days required for a given plant to reach maturity and that will be the optimal time to plant. If possible, plant vegetables early enough to allow at least two weeks prior to frost in order to harvest. Most fall/winter vegetables have a 30 to 90 day maturation period. Root vegetables like carrots and turnips can be planted after the first frost date and can be harvested in early spring.

Fall and winter gardens should be monitored closely for signs that plants are ready to be collected. These plants will take longer to mature because of the decreased amount of sunlight, but the variable weather in the Southeast can speed up or slow down the readiness for harvest.

An additional thought to keep in mind when planting a fall/winter garden is potential damage caused by wildlife. During this time of year the quality and quantity of natural forage begins to decline and wildlife will find your garden quite attractive for filling their bellies. Employ repellents at the time of planting or build an exclusionary fence around the garden to prevent access.

For more information of winter gardens contact the local Extension Office (706-678-2332).

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