In planning your fall garden you will find that most crops are divided into two categories: tender vegetables and semi hardy.
Tender vegetables refer to those that are not conducive to cooler temperatures and need to be harvested before frost. In the summer garden these would be referred to as the warm weather crops. Depending on your area, and the severity of your summer, if these were planted in your summer garden they may still be chugging along and will continue to produce until the end of the season. However, if you had an extremely hot summer, or if you lost some of these crops to pests, these can be planted again for a second go at it. Tender vegetables include: beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, summer squash, and tomatoes.
Semi-hardy vegetables refer to those crops that can tolerate the cooler temperatures and will continue to grow and be harvested after several frosts. In the summer garden, these would be referred to as the cool weather crops and are often those that are planted in very early spring. Semi-hardy vegetables include beets, Swiss chard, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, and many others. If given protection from the elements, some of these will produce, or can at least be stored in the garden through the winter depending on your zone and the location of your garden.
Why this information is important:
Knowing which category your plants fall in will help you plan ahead and properly time the planting of your garden. Because tender vegetable crops are so susceptible to frost, many of them need to be started enough in advance to allow for a harvest. In my zone, fall tomatoes are planted around the Fourth of July. While semi-hardy vegetables on the other hand can be set out much later, some as late as October, I have found that they do still need some time to mature before the cold weather sets in. These crops are tolerant of frost, yes; but their growth rate slows down and they won’t produce as rapidly as they do in warmer weather.
What if I am getting a late start?
My advice: try a few things anyway. The worst that could happen is that you may not get as large a harvest as you would have if you had started earlier. At best you will still have a small crop, you will learn from your experience, and will be that much more prepared for the next growing season.
Next week we’ll talk about the difference between heirloom and hybrid vegetables.