Sure, the summer vegetable garden gets all the glory, but you can keep the harvest going through the first frost by planting a fall vegetable garden now. We spoke with Hannah Smith, Horticulture Extension Agent for Pitt County, to find out her best advice for planting a fall garden today.
1. Figure out where your garden will go.
Where your garden is located — and how big or small it is — matters. Its placement and size will determine the space that you have available for veggies and will help you determine which crops you’d like to plant. You may also want to consider the soil in your future garden: The North Carolina Department of Agriculture does free soil testing in their soil lab from about April 1 until Thanksgiving, Smith says, which allows anyone to learn more about their soil as well as receive specific guidance on any nutrients in the soil or that they may need to add.
2. Decide what you want to plant.
What should you plant? “Whatever you like to eat,” Smith says, chuckling. “It really is as simple as that.” For a starting point, she recommends looking at the planting calendars that they have for each region of the state. “Make sure your climate and soil will support healthy growth of your chosen vegetables and plants.” Think beans, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, collards, radishes, turnips, and more. Find the proper seedlings at your local nursery.
3. Decide when to plant.
Timing depends on your region of the state as well as what you want to plant. The goal for most fall vegetables is to be harvested before the frost date, which, in North Carolina, is usually around November 15. Smith suggests checking with the planting calendars to make sure that you plant at the right time to beat the frost and to decide whether to start the plants from a seed or as a small plant. Timing will shift to earlier the further west you are. Keep in mind that with annuals, you’ll need to replant each year, whereas perennials will return each year in the same place, if taken care of properly, for up to 15 years, according to Smith.
4. It’s go time!
Add any nutrients to the soil that your soil test recommends, and get planting. And don’t spend too much time worrying about the weather, Smith says. Cool weather crops are often less fussy than their warmer counterparts, and hold up well to water, temperature changes, and even some insects and disease. In fact, you’ll find far fewer pests to challenge you as the weather cools.
5. Clean up and prepare for next year.
After your fall harvest, re-setting your garden isn’t as laborious as you may anticipate. Smith suggests making sure that you clean your garden by pulling out old plants, and maybe tilling the area to make it a fallow field. If your area is prone to erosion then you may want to look into a cover crop to prevent soil loss; however, if erosion isn’t prevalent in your area, then Smith says she recommends leaving the areas as is. This will leave your garden ready to cultivate next year.
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