There is still hope for the vegetable garden

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Many families tend to “give up” the vegetable garden once school starts, yet you do not have to. Vegetables can still be productive for a couple more months, depending on what you have been growing.

Certainly, long season crops like tomatoes and peppers, are there now and will continue to produce until frost. Swiss chard will tolerate quite a bit of cold weather. If you got your cabbage transplants in earlier then they will be ready before frost too. Root crops like turnips, carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, and onions can be harvested anytime they are ready and even into frosty weather. Mulching rows with straw and preventing the soil from freezing will allow harvest even if there is snow. (Pro tip: Dig up the row of carrots, for example, and heal all of them in at the edge of the garden, and cover with straw. This allows for easy access later.)

There are other ways you can keep growing into fall:

Short seasons

One newer trend has gardeners growing greens and harvesting them while they are small and tender. So, while our current spot in the calendar may not allow us to grow lettuces, greens, and spinach to their mature sizes, we can certainly harvest them as whole, smaller plants for fresh table use in salads and as garnish for other dishes as well. Also, did you know you can sow radish again for a fall crop? It’s considered to be a hardy option great for fall planting and can tolerate frosts to 28 degrees.

Season extenders

If tomato and pepper plants were not producing fruits because of the high day and nighttime temperatures, consider season extenders. These can help you get a bit farther into fall and not have the weather put an end to your gardening experience. Season extenders can be as simple as covering tender plants with an old bed sheet or light blanket to protect from the earliest of frosts. More involved options may be a temporary structure created over the rows or setting up the cold frame you used in the spring to harden off your plants over a portion of a row or rows. Most anything you used in the spring to protect your vegetables from the late frosts can be reused to protect from the early fall frosts. It seems a bit odd to add this last part in a column in August, but if you have valuable produce close to being mature enough to harvest, be prepared to harvest if you cannot protect the plants so the fruit is not damaged by the cold weather.

Seasonal tasks

Whether or not you are planting new crops for fall or planning to extend your current vegetables, beware of weed seeds. Do not let those weeds grow and go to seed in areas that you have already harvested, leaving the ground open. This will set up a weed problem next year. Later in fall, gardeners who mow, mulch, and bag their tree leaves also have the option of using them in those open garden areas as well, turning them in alone or with other kinds or organic matter at the end of the season.

 

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About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.