It looks like we’re going to be spending extra time at home this fall. The good news is that this is the perfect time to plant your fall garden. Maybe last spring you resurrected your neglected vegetable bed, or maybe you’ve been thinking of building some raised beds in that sunny corner. No need to wait until next spring. Plant those cool-season vegetables now and enjoy a few more months of fresh produce.
Here are some tips to consider.
Lay out your garden on paper and choose what seeds to purchase so you can be sure to plant vegetables you love. At Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort, Natalie Tolbert manages two and a half acres of certified organic gardens. She lays out the garden and starts shopping for seeds in the winter. Some of their favorite crops include Japanese eggplants, Sungold tomatoes, purple daikon radishes, rainbow chard, black kale, baby carrots and rhubarb.
Grow a diverse garden
The Sleeping Lady’s garden is split into two plots — one for native plants and flowers and another for produce. Tolbert says the flowering shrubs and herbs are low maintenance and attract bees, pollinators, and other beneficial predatory insects.
“Beneficial insects really like this garden and do a lot of the background work for me,” Tolbert says. “And the native plants are low maintenance. Once they’re planted, they just keep coming back. If there wasn’t so much biodiversity, I’d probably have way more pest pressure.”
Plan for crop rotation
Tolbert says this is one of the most important things you can do for your garden — even if it’s a small one.
“Crop rotation can be huge in terms of the nutrients in the soil,” Tolbert says. “If, for example, you keep planting tomatoes in the same spot, then there’ll be a nitrogen deficiency in that bed and certain pests may overwinter in the soil and keep coming back year after year.”
However, if you plant an entirely different crop each year, the soil has a chance of rebalancing and the pests are less likely to feed on the new crop so they will be less of a problem.
Harvest at the right time
Learn the signs that a certain crop is about to bolt so you can be sure to pick it before it’s too late.
“For greens and radishes,” Tolbert says, “you can tell the center of the head of lettuce or the radish grows a bit thicker. And you might be able to see tiny little flower buds because bolting is the plant trying to go to flower and finish its life cycle.”
Consider a harvest day
At Sleeping Lady they grow, harvest, clean and deliver the fresh produce to the resort’s Kingfisher and O’Grady’s restaurants every week. While many at-home gardeners pick food whenever they’re ready to eat it, it may work for some to choose a day of the week to dedicate to harvesting. With your fridge stocked, you may be more motivated to use all your produce. So consider dedicating a weekend afternoon to picking, cleaning and preparing the produce for the week.
Sometimes when an entire crop ripens at the same time it can be tough to not let anything go to waste. But, Christian Mikkelsen, the executive chef of the Sleeping Lady Resort’s restaurants, points out that a garden takes a lot of time and money and you should plan to get everything you can out of it. At-home gardeners can collect the seeds from plants, dry extra herbs and preserve extra produce.
“We’ve grown some nice San Marzano tomatoes,” Mikkelsen says. “We cook them lightly then put them in jars and cook them in a water bath like you would to can jam. Then you have preserved tomatoes you can open up six months later and they taste so much fresher than when they’re from a tin can that’s been sitting on the store shelf for months.”
There’s a time of year when you may want to shut the garden (or part of the garden) down entirely. Tolbert recommends you get in the habit of cover cropping — planting a ground cover over the unused section.
“It’s a passive way to add nutrients back into the soil,” she says. “And it’s really good for weed suppression, beneficial insects and erosion control.”
Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort embodies the natural beauty and history of Leavenworth and the Wenatchee Valley. The Kingfisher Restaurant & Wine Bar features gourmet meals created with the freshest local ingredients, many from Sleeping Lady’s own two-acre certified organic garden.