1. Determine your planting zone.
Trust me your garden season has nothing to do with when a retail chain store establishes a "garden center." To determine your garden season you need to know what your planting zone is and then time your planting around that information.
Timing is important with cole crops like cauliflower and broccoli. The best tasting crops will be harvested in the fall. You need to determine the maturity date and plant transplants or start seeds so the the harvest times will be staggered. Spring plantings give you early summer crops and summer plantings give you a fall crop.
2. Succession Plant
Second you need to succession plant. There is not one day or time that you plant all you seeds and then you are done. Every plant has a season and it just so happens that cool season crops have a very long season beginning in spring and extending into fall and winter depending on your set up. Only the fair weather summer crops have only one season and one planting time. The seed packets tell you how many days before the Last Average Frost Date you can START planting. The First Average Frost Dates help you determine the last possible date to plant that crop. You can then staggering the planting of cool season crops throughout the season so you have early summer harvests and fall harvest.
Direct sow in the garden around mid summer crops like carrots, beets, lettuce, pak choi for a fall harvest. Transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage can also be put out mid summer. All fall planting should be done before the end of July.
This is my fall planted broccoli. I have row covers ready if needed but broccoli enjoys the cool fall weather. Plus fall harvested broccoli is much better tasting than summer broccoli.
Summer planted cabbage for fall harvesting. Baby cabbage or smaller cabbage would be good for a fall crop. They need to be planted as transplants around the beginning of July. You can start the seeds indoors early summer or purchase transplants at the nursery.
Pac choi is a great quick growing crop. Time your plantings so you are harvesting in the fall. Do that by finding the maturity date on the seed packet and determining when you want to harvest, and then count backwards from the harvest date . Direct seed this crop.
3. Leave some spring planted crops through the summer
Some crops that many gardeners pull up when the summer heat sets in will perk up and start producing with the cool fall weather. Broccoli, kale, and chard are examples.
Spring planted broccoli will give you lots of fall side shoots until your fall broccoli is ready to harvest.
Kale which complains about summer heat will perk up in the fall. Just keep picking leaves off through the summer give them to chickens, ducks, goats, or pigs and start eating when the evenings cool off and kale sweetens up. Plant kale where it gets some summer afternoon shade. Also spray aphids off, remove badly invested leaves, and spray periodically with Neem to control aphids. With cool fall weather the aphids will no longer be a problem.
Swiss chard does fine through summer and will produce well into the fall. Like kale plant it in an area of the garden that gets afternoon shade. I prefer the taste of it in early summer and fall. The animals get it in mid summer. Chard has few pest issues and is a beautiful and easy crop to grow. It can also be incorporated into your landscape where it provides stunning color. Just remember to keep removing older leaves.
Sorrel, which is an perennial, also perks up in the fall.
4. Get to know the cool season crops and learn to cook them.
Get to know the cool season crops. You may think, "Well I don't like those foods," but trust me you have not eaten them fresh and in season and you may have not yet learned to prepare them. So buy some good cookbooks, find a good fresh food cooking blog, or find online recipes.
These all the vegetables my husband assured me he, "absolutely" did NOT like: asparagus, rutabagas, mustard greens, cabbage, chard, kale, and squash. He now eats and loves them all. OK, he's still not a fan of winter squash but he likes the others.
3. Have a well stock pantry of seasonings and spices.
Also invest in good seasons and spices or better yet grow herbs. This is what makes fresh produce so delicious. Learn what spices blend with and enhance what vegetable.
Learn to make vinaigrette's, sauces, and dressings. Learn to roast, braise, boil, grill, and bake. It is very rewarding to grow a vegetable and then preparing it in a way that leaves your family asking for more.
My 21 year old son is already planning his birthday menu and believe it or not he wants a grilled cabbage recipe as one of the sides. Yup! It's that good.
5. Invest in row covers or a frost blanket
You do not need to wait for a greenhouse to extend your season. Medium weight row covers and a low tunnel can very inexpensively extend your season and allow you to plant earlier. In low tunnels you can lay a row cover right on the crops and have the additional protection of the tunnel.
6. Never Leave the Ground Bare
Bare ground is not good for the micro organisms which are the basis for good soil and organic gardening. When you pull up or harvest a plant- replant. Something. Just don't leave bare soil. Carrots, kohlrabi, and beets are great to fill in holes. No additional fertilizer is need for them. This will give you a continually harvest of these nutritious root crops.
Golden beets are my favorite. They are sweeter and milder flavor than red beets. I love them roasted with other roots crops.
Buckwheat as a cover crop
Don't let a couple of cold days make you give up on your summer crops. Most of them will continue producing until the first freeze.
These are some of the summer crops that are still giving great harvests. This was all harvested on October 20th. Look at all the food that would not be enjoyed if I had pulled up my garden when the garden centers disappeared from the big chain stores.
Be sure to pick tomatoes before a rain. They split with a lot of rain.
Still harvesting watermelon, muskmelons, cucumbers and lots of peppers. With watermelons you can plant small and large varieties so you have an early and later harvest.
You can see the broccoli side shoots from spring planted broccoli. I do two spring plantings of cauliflower to get two harvests. Cauliflower likes a litter warmer weather than broccoli.
Just starting to pick winter squash and I still have pumpkins for pies in the garden.
Caroline are the best raspberries. They are an everbearing so you get berries through the summer. Then another fall crop until the first freeze. I leave a bowl out to eat fresh then freeze the rest for winter use.
Onions curing under the porch.
8. Plant early, mid-season, and late varieties when possible
This works great with potatoes. Early and mid-season varieties can be enjoyed now and storage potatoes in the late fall and winter.
This is also great when planting tomatoes. Fourth of July is a great early variety and a mix of heirlooms and hybrids can give you tomatoes until the first freeze.
9. Prepare you garden beds in the late fall for early spring planting.
When you finally do finish up with a bed, remove all plant debris and weeds and cover with a layer of compost. Next spring you will just have to add a dry organic fertilizer and you are ready to plant at the right time.
If this seems overwhelming after a couple of seasons it becomes easy. Just remember you have to reprogram your thinking from a "retail gardener" motivated by marketing strategies to an organic gardener who makes decisions based on the biology of the soil and plants themselves.
Once you undertake this lifestyle you will eat healthier, enjoy good fresh food, feel better, and enjoy the beauty and bounty of all that a garden has to offer. You might even enjoy cooking!
Your garden will then feed your family not your frustrations. And in your wildest dreams you would ever want to go back to tasteless store bought produce.