Give it a try!
Spring is when people think of it as the start of the gardening season. Then summer, as the main season, and fall as the end. However, the harvest season doesn’t have to end. In most people’s gardens, it does as they revert to their couches and start looking through seed catalogues. But it doesn’t have to.
I live in Toronto, which takes on the appearance of a snow globe in the winter months (global warming is changing things a bit). And while I’m newer at having a four-season in-ground garden, I’ve already fallen in love with it.
Cozying up by the fireplace with all my newly-arrived seed catalogues is so special. I used to dream of all my delicious harvests as I did it. Now, I can actually harvest when they arrive. Sure, I, unfortunately, can’t pick a tomato from the garden in January. Still, I can pull a bunch of carrots and cut some spinach for dinner. How great does that sound?
Having a late season garden is much less work than a summer garden, as weeding and watering are kept to a minimum.
And still leaving lots of time to order all the seeds you could ever dream of.
What To Grow
I hope you’re not expecting some snap beans from the garden in November. Sorry, but I can’t help you with that. You’ll need to get yourself a heated greenhouse (feel free to get me one too!) and supplemental light.
But, how about some kale? Or radishes, for you kale haters? Know that fall/winter harvests consist of plants that tolerate or enjoy the winter wonderland, so not your heat-loving tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini.
Root crops, like carrots, beets, turnips, and parsnips (ewww) are good choices for late-season growing. Radishes are another fantastic choice, and within that choice, you have two options: winter or spring radishes. Spring radishes are likely what you’re familiar with; golf-ball-sized, brightly coloured, and often come in bunches at the farmers market and grocery store (though I would recommend shopping at the former). Or, better yet, fresh out of your garden. Winter radishes, on the other hand, are bigger, as they are better for storage. Think daikon types, or the ‘Watermelon’ radishes photos you may have seen floating around on social media (they actually look like watermelons when cut open!).
There are also a lot of leafy greens that are fans of cooler weather.
This past spring, I grew a great cold-tolerant lettuce variety called “Rouge D’Hiver” and the red colour actually intensified when the weather got colder. Some other great greens are mizuna, Mache, mustard, spinach, arugula, tatsoi, and Swiss chard. As mentioned, make sure to buy seed for cool-weather growing and fast maturity dates.
Many cole-crops or plants in the brassicas family also make an excellent choice for growing in the later part of the year. Think kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kohlrabi and Bok choi.
One other thing that I have never done is grown fall peas. But I do know that it can be done and might give it a try this year.
Choosing Specific Varieties
But you’re still left with lots of great options. With whatever you decide you want to grow look for varieties that are known for cold tolerance, when you’re buying them.
Forget about those varieties that say “good resistance to bolting” or “heat tolerant". You want to look for the exact opposite. Look for “cold-hardy” or “preforms well in cooler weather”.
It’s also good to grow varieties you’ve grown before and know that they perform well for you, or go online or social media and see what everyone else is growing and what they think of particular varieties. Pay special attention to people growing in the same area or climate as you.
Another thing you might want to consider is plant size. If you plan on growing some of the cool-season crops under season extension covers (mentioned below), it might be a good idea to look for smaller varieties. For example, I bought seeds for ‘Dwarf Blue Curled Kale’ because other varieties would likely be too tall for my cold frame lids to fit on.
When to Plant
To grow all-year round, just think like you did back in the spring. If you started anything from seed in your garden, you probably remember anxiously checking the weather a couple times a day, looking up last frost dates for your area, and of course counting back weeks to figure out when to plant what. Well, you need to do exactly the same thing now.
Go ahead and look up your first frost date (some great resources below!) and then grab a calendar.
Look at the days to maturity (DTM) of the varieties you plan on planting.
Then count back to find out when to plant them.
I tend to add about a week to make up for shortening day lengths.
Pretty much everything can be direct-seeded, however, I personally start some of those plants, especially the brassicas, inside under lights to protect them from hungry slugs. Then after about a month, I harden them off (help them get used to the unpredictable and sometimes extreme outside conditions) and then finally put them in their final home in the garden.
This basically means planting different crops together. You might already be doing this in your garden. But specifically to late season gardening, think about putting some of the above cold-hardy plants with heat-loving crops in your garden. This way, when that chilly weather comes around, and you harvest or cut-off the heat-loving plants at the base of the plant, the cool-loving plants have space to grow. This helps to save space when it’s planting time. For example, my tomatoes are currently growing in the ground in my cold frames (with the lids off). Pretty soon, I will be planting some cooler-weather plants near and underneath them. When the tomatoes are finished this fall, I’ll chop the top of the plants, giving everything else
space to grow.
Care for your fall/winter garden as you would other plants:
Keep watered (though you’ll have to do it less and less as it the weather cools off)
Keep weeds away, and watch for pests.
At the point that the plants are doing all their growing (before they reach full maturity), make sure to keep up with fertilizing! For plant parents using Nurture Growth, apply every 1-2 weeks at a rate of 1 tsp/litre by spraying on the leaves and around the base of the plant.
I'm talking about ways to keep your plants a little bit warmer and protected. Here are three different one timing change.
Cold Frames: I have four cold frames in my backyard. They are basically just a bottomless box with a clear lid to capture solar energy and warm up. We made ours from scratch, with wood sides and initially, we had vapour barrier tops. However, we soon upgraded to two-ply polycarbonate since it has better insulating properties, and doesn’t sag with the weight of snow/rain like the vapour barrier did. In the spring, they are home to my hundreds of tomato seedlings. In the summer, I take off the lids and plant tomato plants in the ground there. And then, at the end of the season, I interplant some cool-season crops with my tomatoes before I cut them off at the base, and plant more once that’s done. You can also buy already assembled polycarbonate cold frames.
Row Cover: A fabric that comes in different weights, offering varying amounts of protection against the cold (and some very light ones are insect barriers). I like to put it over plastic hoops in the garden, held down with binder clips. You could also anchor it down to the sides of raised beds, but be wary of it sagging with rain and snow. If you have unexpected cold weather, draping it over plants is great last-minute protection. I’ve also draped it over plants and seedlings in the cold frames for extra protection on cold nights.
Cloches: I had lots of hot weather this spring, until I didn’t. It was a sudden cold -snap, and my peppers (which aren’t fans of the cold) were already planted outside. What did I do? Cloches! I found some old vases and glass jars in the basement, and set them over top of my plants, giving them a bit of protection. But, make sure to remember to take them off in the morning, so you don’t roast your plants once the sun comes up. You can also look for other cloches for sale, but I found that using what you already have at home is a great option!
Mulch: It’s great for many things in the warm-season garden, and the cool-season garden too. Try putting a thin layer of straw or leaf mulch over carrots or winter radish. The mulch acts as an insulator, and gives you the chance to go out and harvest even when there’s snow on the ground.
Emma Biggs Bio
Recognized by Garden Making magazine as one of the “green gang” of Canadians making a difference in horticulture, Emma Biggs is a 16-year-old gardener, author, speaker, and blogger. Her passion is growing tomatoes, trying new, unusual crops, and saving seeds. She has raised over 150 tomato varieties in her Toronto garden, and loves to try weird and wonderful plant projects. Emma gives talks at libraries, seed exchanges, garden clubs, and garden shows. She is the co-host of The Food Garden Life Show. Her latest book, Gardening with Emma helps kids find the fun in gardening (and helps adults remember how much fun gardening is!) Find Emma at emmabiggs.ca or on Instagram @emmabiggs_grows.
The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener & Growing Under Cover (both books by Niki Jabbour)
A continuous harvest guide, including for fall planting: https://seedtofork.com/blog/the-ultimate-garden-plan
A Collection of Great Cold-Season Gardening Articles: https://savvygardening.com/category/cold-season-gardening/
Canada Hardiness Zones Map: http://planthardiness.gc.ca/?m=1
Zone Info & Canadian Zones: https://empressofdirt.net/canadian-plant-hardiness-zones/
Toronto Hardiness Zone: https://www.torontogardens.com/2009/05/why-toronto-is-zone-6-and-zone-5.html/