Worried About Food Shortages This Fall? Plant an Undercover Vegetable Garden
By Mary Johnson, editor
As people struggled to find food in the grocery stores during the coronavirus lockdown earlier this year, interest in gardening and growing your own food surged nationwide. August is payoff month in the vegetable garden, and it’s also a key time to replace harvested crops with new plantings that will feed you through the fall and winter.
Every garden month has its own set of challenges. Where I live in Central Virginia, August brings high heat, severe storms, insects and deer. To get around those challenges, and to avoid using expensive pesticides, I’ve used row covers for the past 20 years. I cover the crops in my garden using various weights of lightweight spun poly agricultural fleece which allows in sun and rain, aids germination and moderates moisture, while it keeps out insects, frustrates deer, and protects crops from frost damage. If you are like my neighbors, once you try undercover gardening, you’ll never garden any other way. Those of you who already use it, know what I mean.
I have plenty of growing space in my garden and, starting in August, I tend to replant the same types of cool weather crops I put into the ground in March and April —salad greens, broccoli, bok choi, spinach and beets. In addition, I plant a few winter stalwarts such as tat soi (and other oriental mustards), kales and Italian radicchios.
Because August can be in the 90’s here, I often start seed on a growing rack situated on my shaded porch. By the last week in August or early September, the slow growers such as broccoli and brussels sprouts that I start around the 4th of July are ready for transplanting into the garden. These plantings go under the lightest weight covers which don’t retain heat. I switch to fall and winter cover materials as temperatures drop. Most of the other crops are sown during the month August. I keep sowing the faster growing crops (such as spinach and arugula) through early October. Prior to the first frost, I transition to heavier weight covers or, if a frost lower than 24 degrees is forecast before I’m ready, I use two layers of the light weight covers to protect crops.
Usually, established cold weather crops can easily sail through a light frost. Last year, I wintered over a winter hardy variety of lettuces, escarole, endives, radicchios, bok choi, arugula, and a variety of Asian mustards. Temperatures got down to as low as 18 degrees, but everything that was under double layers did fine, and I harvested straight through until March.
Garlic can be planted in late October or November, and like all those wild garlic that likes to take up residence in your lawn, garlic simply needs a generous layer of compost and mulch to stay happy over the winter and no other cover at all.
I live in growing zone 7B, so planting dates would need to be adjusted depending on where you live. As the days grow shorter, the plants grow more slowly. Thus, to figure out when to start plants, add about two weeks to the growing time, and allow another ten days if you are transplanting. (Transplants always need at least a week to 10 days to ponder their new existence and decide whether you are doing a fabulous job and should be rewarded.)
If you decide to give fall gardening a go, online ordering is going to be your best bet to find the best varieties and supplies. Two companies that specialize in vegetable varieties and supplies for fall and winter growing are: Johnny’s Seed and Territorial Seed.
For more information:
- To help with your sowing schedule, see this winter growing chart from Territorial Seed.
- Learn how to use crop covers in this video from Charles Dowding, the father of organic “no dig” gardening.
- To learn more about agricultural row cover fabrics, and to find a wide range of supplies see this video from Johnny’s Selected Seed.
- Learn how to construct row covers in this video from Oklahoma Gardening.