Although warm-season gardening is great, fall gardening is definitely our favorite. We're fortunate that our climate allows us to grow most cool-season vegetables throughout the winter months down here, and we like to take advantage of that. But we do have to make sure summer is finished before we start putting cool-season crops in the ground.
WHEN CAN WE START FALL PLANTING?
Sometimes summer temperatures will persist into October down here. In those years, we usually don't get an actual "fall" season and the weather will just go from hot to cold sometime in late October or November. Other years, we'll actually get a fall and we'll start seeing a break in the hot temperatures around late September.
If we try and put cool-season transplants (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.) in the ground when it's still too hot outside, those transplants usually don't have a very high survival rate. If we try and direct-seed root veggies (carrots, beets, parsnips) while the soil is still too warm, we won't get very good germination rates as those vegetables tend to like soil temperatures around 70 degrees.
Below you'll find our tentative schedule for seed starting, transplanting, and direct-seeding for the fall gardening season here in zone 8b. This is not set in stone, but just some basic guidelines that we try to follow. This will ensure that we have transplants ready to go in the ground and plots ready for direct-seeding whenever the cooler temperatures do finally arrive.
MID TO LATE AUGUST
This is when we'll be starting most of our brassica seeds in the greenhouse. These would include crops like collards, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc. Most of these vegetables take about 5-6 weeks to go from seed to viable transplant. So hopefully starting them in mid August should make our timing just right for a late September in-ground planting.
We'll wait until early September to start some of the more faster-growing, cool-season greens. This would include things like Savanna mustard, pak choi, and lettuce. Most of these grow really fast and you can have a viable transplant in just a few weeks after planting. As a result, we don't need to start these as soon as some of the other cool-season veggies that will take longer in the greenhouse.
This is when we'll start our onion and leek seeds in the greenhouse. Onion seeds can take a week or so to germinate and sometimes leek seeds can take longer than that. Onions usually take about 6 weeks or more to form a viable transplant, but we want to give ourselves a little more time this year. Last year we experimented with trimming the onion plants in the trays, and that did seem to toughen the plants and make them more hardy. So we'll plan to do that again this year so that our transplant survival rate is higher.
Assuming the outside temps have cooled somewhat, we'll put all those cool-season transplants in the ground in late September. This will include all the slower-growing brassicas that we started in mid-August and the faster-growing mustard, pak choi, and lettuce that we started in early September.
October is the perfect time for us to direct-seed root veggies that we'll overwinter. We have to wait until the soil temps are cool enough for things like carrots, parsnips, and beets to germinate well. We like to see soil temps in the low 70s for these vegetables. If they aren't that cool by early October, sometimes we get pushed to mid October. Either way, we'll make sure we have our plot ready so we can direct seed carrots, beets, and parsnips in October as soon as the soil temps allow.
Much like the root veggies, we also have to wait on cooler soil temps for direct-seeding spinach. Spinach likes the soil to be even cooler than carrots, so that's why we have to wait a little longer. Some years I have had to wait until November to plant spinach, but hopefully we can get it planted in late October this year. Ideally, we want to see soil temps in the 60s before we try and plant spinach.
November is allium time here in south Georgia! This is when we'll be putting all our onion and leek transplants in the ground for overwintering. We'll also be planting elephant garlic and softneck garlic in November. The elephant garlic doesn't require any special preparation, but we do have to put the softneck garlic in the fridge for a couple months prior to planting. This is only necessary if you live in a warmer climate like we do.
ENJOY YOUR FALL GARDEN!
We hope this schedule has been helpful for you. If you are in a growing zone north of 8b, you'll probably want to adjust your schedule to be a few weeks ahead of ours. If you're in a growing zone south of 8b, you'll probably want to adjust your schedule to be a few weeks behind us. Either way, fall is a great time to enjoy growing your own food!