Just after Labor Day, we glimpsed a potato farmer disking his fields in Watermill with a certain urgency. He was planting a combination of rye and triticale, a cover crop mix he was trying on this plot where spuds had recently been dug. He said that he could judge how well his cover crop would do largely by how quickly he planted it after Labor Day, when it could benefit from some still-warm days of September and October, and the ample rain that was likely to come in October and November.
Even if we’re not as on-the-ball as this earlybird farmer, gardeners in the Northeast swear by the period from mid-Septmeber to mid-October as the time to get cover crops— a protective living cover to enrich the soil and buffer it from the extremes of winter—established on harvested beds. There are also plenty of edibles you still have time to sow for winter meals.
At my local Agway, the rack of summer seeds has been replaced with a more curated selection of fall and winter-hardy plants and bulbs. At home gardener website destination, Johnnys Seeds, the top promo bar highlights “Kale,” “Spinach,” “Carrots,” “Greens,” “Lettuce,” as well as 10 percent off season extension supplies. A more exhaustive list of what can be planted from mid-Septmeber to mid-October, and even later, includes: spinachs, sorrels, kales, mustards, lettuces, micro-greens like cress and Komatsuna and many other cold-hardy greens; turnips, radishes, carrots and root crops that overwinter; scallions, onions, shallots and other bulbs that overwinter; rye, oats, field pea, vetch, clover and other cover crops; as well as an expanded list of less-cold-hardy greens that can survive the late fall and winter with some protective mulching or greenhouse cover. (Johnny’s calls these QuickHoops crops, a term they have trademarked.)
And if you miss this window, don’t fear. There’s still plenty of time to plant garlic cloves, whose long season from fall to early summer of the next year endears it to many local farmers. Our friend and food movement pioneer Joan Gussow swears by planting garlic just after the full moon that comes after the first frost, which can often push planting into early December! And if you are experimenting with protective row-cover or greenhouses, then you’re opening up the playing field even more.
TELL US: What are you planting for this fall and winter?