The Fall Vegetable Garden
by Aileen Carroll for Van Winden’s Garden Center
While spring is the time when most people think of planting vegetables, Napans are lucky enough to live in a climate that is perfect for vegetables year round. If you’re a fan of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, garlic, kohlrabi, onions or lettuce – then you’ll be happy to learn that they grow best when planted in the fall, as opposed to the spring! The cooler weather causes things to grow more slowly, so embrace this calm time in the garden. Here are some tips for success with fall vegetable gardening.
Tips for Fall Vegetable Garden Success!
Prepare your soil The culinary gardeners around the Valley amend their soil twice a year, ahead of the season’s planting. Good soil, after all, makes growing vegetables easy! Topping off beds with compost and soil amendments like composted chicken manure, earthworm castings, feather meal, bat guano, and kelp meal is essential. The trick to getting these organic amendments to work is mycorrhizae. Organic amendments are like fuel and the mycorrhizae is the engine. One without the other is not particularly helpful. Some bagged soil products like Bumper Crop Soil Conditioner, available at Van Winden’s Garden Center, contain all these things.
Plant what you will eat It is going to take time, money and tenacity to have a successful veggie garden – so make sure you are using your resources on crops that you are actually excited to use and share with family and friends. When you’re growing things that you like, you are much more likely to give them the care and attention they need to thrive. Don’t feel pressured to plant one of everything. If you only really love onions and strawberries, then focus on just those!
Pests to watch out for pests
During our cold months the main garden pests you will be dealing with are aphids, slugs, and snails. There are many pesticide sprays that will kill aphids but consider another option when you’re dealing with a plant that you want to eat the leaf of, such as lettuce and kale. Even organic sprays should be used with caution and prudence. Slugs and snails can easily be controlled with the application of organic Sluggo or a simple beer trap. Earwigs and rolly polly bugs can be dealt with Sluggo Plus.
Besides flowering all winter, these three companion plants will help your vegetables grow better. Alyssum is a great companion plant for any fall crop that gets aphids including lettuces, artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc. Alyssum is a type of banker plant, as it attracts and feeds beneficial predatory insects. It will attract the good bugs you need to save your vegetables from pests! You can plant calendula by carrots/peas/lettuce to bring in the good bugs, and Icelandic poppies bloom all winter and are a great pollen source for bees in the cold months. Most winter crops do not need bees but it is nice to “keep the buffet open” all year for pollinators.
Cover crops Not keen on planting a fall veggie garden but have empty veggie beds? Keep that soil healthy and alive by planting a cover crop. Your soil needs to have living roots in it year round in order for it to perform its best. Many cover crops like fava beans and vetch actually pull nitrogen out of the air and fix it in your soil as they grow!
As the soil cools down for the winter months, the window to get these plants in the ground with good harvest results closes as well. Plan on getting fall veggies in the ground before mid-October and making sure they get at least 6 hours of sun a day. If you find yourself with more questions about fall vegetable gardening, the good people at Van Winden’s Garden Center in Napa are happy to help you! (due to poor airflow) and increased fertilizer needs.
Add some flowers Besides adding beauty, veggie gardens will really benefit with the addition of certain flowers. French marigolds have stinky roots and leaves that can mask the smell of tomatoes and brassicas, thus hiding them from many bad bugs. Nasturtiums work as a type of ‘banker plant’ by luring aphids and other pests away from your tender greens and ensuring that there are pests around for good bugs to eat. Plant nasturtiums alongside lettuce, squash, tomatoes, and artichokes. Alyssum is another type of banker plant that attracts and feeds beneficial predatory insects. It will attract the good bugs that you need to save your vegetables from pests!