The tomatoes are on their last leg, and the zucchini are starting to wilt. Summer is fading away like a long sigh and so is your vegetable garden. But don’t dismay, autumn brings with it a whole new season of potential. Plant a fall garden today and you’ll be munching on big, bold, beautiful fall flavors all the way through November. Here’s what you need to know for planting a fall garden in Illinois.
Planting Dates: September 1st- 31st.
While cold-hardy crops can withstand low temperatures, they need a fair amount of sunshine to insure germination. The shortened days after September make it difficult for plants to get all the light they need. Sow your seeds no later than September 31st in order to make the most of your fall gardening efforts (and earlier is better).
Know your frost date
The first frost date is often listed is a guide for best results on when to start planting your crops. Typically, you should take the number of days a crop needs for maturation and count back from the first frost date in order to determine when to plant your seeds. However, many cold-hardy plants can survive and even thrive after the first frost, so there is some flexibility in using this method. The predicted first frost date can be found in the Farmer’s Almanac each year. This year it is predicted to be around October 13th.
Prepare your beds
To get started with your fall garden, simply clean out the leftover vines and stems from your current garden (throw them in your compost pile if you have one), lightly till, and amend your soil with compost. Now you’re all set to plant some seeds and start harvesting delicious veggies well into autumn. Alternatively, if you'd like to give your garden a rest, plant in a fall cover crop to protect your soils and add organic materials. Tillage radishes are a great start.
Decide what to plant!
Lettuce, radishes, basil, swiss chard and spinach
These take as little as one month to mature (if harvesting baby leaves). They will also survive a light frost, so they are a great choice for fall.
Kale and Collard Greens take about 40 days to mature and their leaf quality and flavor is actually best after a few light frosts!
The purple variety matures in about a 45 days, while white and green varieties average about 55-60 days. This crop has a tolerance for frost (most broccoli relatives are pretty cold hardy), so you should definitely make room for these unique and very underappreciated veggies.
Beets and cabbage
These take two months (60 days) to harvest but they will survive in temperatures down to 20 degrees F.
This is a great crop to plant in the fall as well. You will not be able to harvest it, but it will pop up with green shoots first thing in the spring and you’ll be glad next summer when it matures!
Build a Low Tunnel
If you’re really serious about extending your growing season and getting a great yield, consider adding low tunnels to your garden space. Inexpensive and easy to build, they are a great option for giving you high quality veggies even in the winter and extending your season even further. There are many variations out there, but below are two different low cost options.