I have received several requests lately asking for advice on what vegetables to plant now for the fall and winter months. Here at Windmill Farm we have just finished our 2014 CSA produce season. We started planting some things in February and today, October 1st, I am still picking green beans, peppers, egg plant, tomatoes and carrots. What an amazing year. We only plant winter vegetables now, not to sell but for ourselves, except for the onions and garlic which will be ready next spring. The crops we plant in February, are the in ground and above ground plants that will be harvested in late April/early May for the first of our CSA season.
Before you start buying seeds or putting starts in the ground, I would suggest thinking about or doing a few things first.
Know your planting zone.
There is a great website: http://www.garden.org/zipzone/
You type in your zip code and it will tell you what planting zone you are, which is very important to know. Zone maps are tools that show where various plants can adapt. If you want a shrub, perennial, or tree to survive and grow year after year, the plant must tolerate year-round conditions in your area, such as the lowest and highest temperatures and the amount and distribution of rainfall. The same is true of annuals, such as vegetables. After knowing your planting zone, you can go to many seed and planting websites and they will have suggestions of what plants do best in your area. I am very lucky, I live in Zone 9a.
Make sure all the weeds and debris is removed from the area where you want to plant. You can't expect new plants to be happy if they are competing for space with dried up weeds or green grass left in the place where you are planting new vegetables.
Moisten the ground first for a few days before you plant. It has been a hot year and the soil is dry. Seeds or small plants love moist soil to get a good start growing.
Watering: Just because you think it will start raining soon or during the next few months and you don't need to water, think again. The wind starts up, drys the soil out, or there may be many days in-between rains and the plants will dry out. You will need to continue to water or at least check on them every couple of days to make sure they are doing OK.
If you are planting from seed, you need to read carefully how many days from planting to harvest it takes per plant. As the daylight shortens, they will have less time to grow. Sometimes it is better/easier to buy plants rather than seeds. You will find most garden centers have plant starts available now to purchase, I would suggest you do that and save yourself time and increase your chances of getting a harvest in time before the real hard freezes start. Or if you have a greenhouse, then you can start them there and within a week or two move them into the ground.
The top plants that most gardening sites state that you can grow now are: Garlic, Herbs, Lettuces, Radishes & Carrots, Crucifies (Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower), Dark Greens (Kale, Swiss Chard).
I put them in hardy to semi hardy lists-
Hardy Fall/Winter Vegetables
Semi-Hardy Vegetables (depends on how cold the winter)
Think about the location of your winter crop. It is fun to walk back into a large garden in summer when the weather is nice and you have loads of daylight time to stroll through your vegetable patches. But during winter, it may be raining, cold, windy, wet and do you want to go to your back "40" as they say, with a flash light to pick some lettuce after you just got home from work or picking the kids up from soccer practice? No.
So plant your winter crops, if you can, close to the house. That means you can dig up those annual summer flowers you had in pots around the back door and porch and plant your lettuce or herbs or even kale in them. Or plant them along the side of your house. Someplace easy to get to, convenient, otherwise you will not want to take the effort to pick them. Here is a cute idea to plant in different containers on a ladder.
Pests. Yes, it is hard to believe that bugs are out there eating your plants in the winter or when it is raining. In fact, I sometimes think certain pests such as slugs, earwigs, beetles can be just as bad during this time as they are in the summer. They are hungry for nice sweet young green salad leaves, same as you. So keep an eye out for bugs.