The Fall Garden – A Key Component to Vegetable Self-Sufficiency

The fall garden is one that is still producing after the first fall frosts and is a sign of a dedicated, committed and skilled gardener. While keeping a garden productive well into fall is a key component to vegetable self-sufficiency, it doesn’t happen magically. Planning is essential for a successful fall garden. Knowing when to plant what as well as knowing which vegetables can take exposure to frost and cool temperatures is the secret to success. Let’s talk about the fall garden.

Fall Seedlings Waiting For a Home

Fall Seedlings Waiting For a Home

Estimating Fall Planting Dates

In our book The Self-Sufficient Backyard for the Independent Homesteader we discuss in detail how to keep your garden productive well into fall. Components of this include knowing the maturity dates of vegetables you wish to grow, knowing the date of your expected first fall frost and having transplants ready at the right stage of growth to put in spots as space becomes available. This is known as succession planting.

Below is the formula we use and explain in our book. It’s been adapted from “The Seed Savers Handbook” by Nancy Bubel.

1. take the days to maturity found on the seed packet

2. Add to that number 7 days for the seeds to germinate

3. Add to that number 14 days to allow for the fact the days will be getting shorter after the summer solstice (June 21 in the northern hemisphere)

4. Add to that another 14 days if the vegetable is frost tender (beans, corn, cukes, tomatoes, peppers and zucchini fall in this category). If the vegetable isn’t frost sensitive there’s no need to add 14 more days so skip this step.

5. If you will be growing transplants add 14 to 21 days to account for the time it takes to get the vegetable to a size that’s ready to transplant. If your vegetable is one that is normally direct seeded there’s no need to add this figure so skip this step.

6. Take the total number of days you have calculated and using a calendar count back from your expected frost date. That is the date you need to get the vegetable in the ground to get a crop before frost.

Vegetable Hardiness List

Fall Seedlings Ready for Transplant

Fall Seedlings Ready for Transplant

Knowing which vegetables are frost sensitive and which are hardy enough to take frost is important too. The following lists taken from our book may be helpful.

Frost tender




Summer squash



Pumpkin and winter squash vines


Sweet potatoes

Can survive light frost




Head and leaf lettuces




Potato vines

Can survive heavy frost


Brussels sprouts





Radishes (summer and winter types)



Belgian endive

If you have no experience ascertaining what is meant by heavy and light frost, these guidelines may be helpful.

Light frost 28F to 32F

Moderate frost 24F to 28F

Hard freeze anything below 24F

Experiment, Be Creative, Adapt

Be aware there are limits even for the hardiest of vegetables. Most frost tolerant vegetables will be damaged or even killed by temperature below 24F especially if these temps are sustained for any length of time. Once sustained cold like that arrives it’s time to put the garden to bed for the season unless you employ some sort of season extenders such as row covers, hoop tunnels, cold frames, grow frames, hot beds or a solar greenhouse. We’ve used most of these at one time or the other over the course of our 41 years of trying to be as self-reliant as possible. We still employ most of these season extenders to this day. Using one or more of these season extenders means you’ll be able to prolong your weeks of fresh eating and potentially grow some of the more cold tolerant vegetables through the winter months.

Fall Plants Protected By Row Covering

Fall Plants Protected By Row Covering

Don’t be afraid to be creative. Since we’ve gardened in more colder climates, sometimes we used several season extenders at the same time. For example, to get certain vegetable through a winter with temperatures that might go down to zero Fahrenheit, we set up cold frames within our greenhouse, essentially creating a greenhouse within a greenhouse. At night, we might cover the plants with a garden fabric after placing hot water bottles around the plants as a heat source. Then close the cold frame lid and throw a blanket over the cold frame.

Mid-winter Season Extension

Mid-winter Season Extension

A little planning and preparation in mid summer so you have transplants ready to go at the right time translates to a flourishing and productive garden well into the fall and potentially winter months.

Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!

Ron and Johanna

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