If you think that edible gardening ends in the fall, think again! The cooler months are a fantastic time to get planting. “For me, a winter garden is just as exciting as a summer garden.” says Kyle Hagerty, the garden expert behind the wildly popular Instagram account Urban Gardener in Sacramento, Calif., and more recently, a YouTube channel packed with smart gardening basics. “It may not be as colorful, but one of the nice thing is the energy of the garden follows the energy of the season – chill and laid back. There’s not as much pressure from pests, you don’t have to worry about irrigation, and you can harvest as needed.” To get started, Hagerty is sharing his top to-dos from his cold-season gardening checklist.
Start a Journal
“Record some notes about your summer garden discoveries, whether it’s your first summer, or maybe you’re an experienced gardener,” he says. Jot down mistakes, successes, a new favorite variety or issues with pests. When it comes time to start prepping your garden again for the season you can return to your notes for guidance.
“Saving seeds can be a little complex,” says Hagerty. The general thing to consider is that the only really viable seeds that will reproduce that plant exactly are heirloom seeds from open-pollinated varieties. (Another good reason to hang on to those plant tags or seed packets.) On the other hand, seeds from hybrids will not produce a plant identical to the parent.
Remove Summer Annuals
By pulling out dead and diseased plants and vines, you’re also removing the host for pests, disease and fungal spores, says Hagerty.
“Adding compost is the best thing you can do to improve the composition of your soil, and this is the best time to do it,” he says. As it rains throughout the fall and winter, the worms will help work that compost into the soil, just in time for spring planting. He recommends a 2-4 inch layer of homemade or store-bought compost.
Start Fall & Winter Plants
Check out our Cold-Season Edible Garden Guide!
If you think that edible gardening ends in the fall, think again! Cool season gardens produce some of our favorite veggies: kale, cauliflower, peas, carrots, lettuce, beets, onions, broccoli. In most regions, it’s best to start these in September and October, but along the West Coast and in the Southeast and Southwest, you can still plant cold-hearty plants, like kale, spinach, onions, Swiss chard, sweet peas, garlic, and herbs throughout the fall and winter. Also, don’t forget bare-root fruits, like blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, and stone fruit, which you can find online or at your local nursery by February.
Start a Compost Pile
“Speaking of compost, fall is also a good time to start a large compost pile.” Compost does best when you have a large quantity, making fall the ideal time to achieve the perfect carbon to nitrogen ratio. Balance the green vines and plants you remove from your summer garden (sans diseased plants, of course) with equal parts dried fall leaves. (Hagerty even keeps an extra bag of leaves on hand to add to the pile throughout the year.) This time of year, discarded pumpkins make great compost. Chop those pumpkins up first, as smaller material breaks down more easily.