Savvy Fall Gardening Tips, & Heirloom Seed Giveaway!

It’s a little difficult to fathom why the thought of planting my fall garden this week causes my spirit to spiral into paroxysms of delight. After all, my garden now is so full of lovely things to eat that I can’t keep up with it. Or with the lovely things, themselves: heirloom tomatoes, roma beans, basil, onions, peppers, and the like, to name just a few. The melons, happily, are finally setting on: Orangeglo watermelon (the best watermelon I’ve found), Moon and Stars, of course, and Boule d’Or melon. There are still a few weeds to pull, too, for when we have a slow day (hahahaa “slow day”).

Oh my. The weeds. The other day, little Mack came out to find me in the garden, pulling up foxtail and lambs’ quarters and grasses by the armload, and he regarded me sadly. “Mom,” he said in his too-wise-for-his-years manner. “There is absolutely no way you’ll pull all these weeds. Best to ask Dad to bring the rototiller out and just ’till the whole thing under.” Tsk, tsk.

I looked at him through the rivulets of sweat that were streaming down my burned face, brushing a nasty harlequin bug off my scraped leg, and thought “The lad might have a point there.”

My dear friend Anne is enjoying a weed-free summer, I’m sure, with her gorgeous wood-chip-mulched garden spot. Probably she has a hammock and a little table set up, in her garden, so that when she goes out–from habit--to weed the garden and finds out that actually there are no weeds,Β she can plop down, placing her refreshing icy drink on the handy little table, and just read the good book that she always has at hand. Since she has so much time now. (I’m pestering her for news from the second year of her Back to Eden garden, so you really ought to stay posted for that.)

But not me. No hammock or little glass-topped table or nuthin’. Nor a refreshing bevvie. Just weeds, weeds, just more . . . detestable . . . weeds. But! I do not indulge in self-pity, Gentle Reader. No. And actually, it does feel quite good to have so much fresh mulch readily available (the freshly-pulled weeds). I just heap them everywhere. Ironically, they keep more weeds from coming up, because I have so many of them to heap about. “Smothering mulch” perhaps could be a new garden term, for those of us with August gardens that we are loathe to just “’till the whole thing under.” I have also been pushing wheelbarrow loads of them to the chicken yard, and it does a body good (wouldn’t you agree?) to do something so healthy for one’s chickens as putting mountains of weeds (some of them already going to seed!) into their yard. They pick and eat and scratch and grin. So there’s that.

Here’s a picture of our cat Mary, hunting in the blueberry patch, to break up all this text:

"Just patrolling for voles, Mom."

“Just patrolling for voles, Mom.”


Today, not tomorrow, not on the weekend, but today I’ve got to can another batch of tomatoes, since the ones that the kids and I have been picking and that I’ve been arranging on the tables out on the back porch are starting to smell a bit . . . suspicious. Not all of them, mind, but just a few are starting to have the soft spots which tomorrow will be full-out rot. That’s the one downside of growing heirloom tomatoes that I’ve discovered, and (in my opinion) it’s the only downside: they just don’t last long, once you pick them. But I don’t care. The upsides are so numerous and delicious and delightful (honestly) that I can put up with the one little piddly thing.

But it also means that they won’t wait to be used, once they’ve taken the notion to turn to the dark side.

And look. Aren’t they purty?

yes, they are purdy.

so . . . purty!

As I write, I’ve canned two batches of tomatoes so far (that’s 20 quarts) with Lucille’s old-fashioned method. Amalia is as good-natured as she can be about standing in the sticky, warm kitchen with me, scalding and peeling and chunking tomatoes. My older kids: Matthew, Andrew, Bethie, and Timothy–never complained about all the preserving work this time of year, either. I’m not sure (“I’m not quitesure” is how my granddaughter Anya would say it) why, except that probably it’s a relief after all the time that we’ve spent pulling weeds lately, to just stand in one place in the kitchen and be occupied with such an easy task as peeling scalded tomatoes. And of course she can set up Pandora on the laptop and sing away to her favorite music as we work together. Amalia prefers show tunes.


So you can just imagine what our kitchen is like this time of year. Sticky. Hot. Juicy. Crowded. Steamy. Tomatoey. Full of loud, exuberant singing.


With a bit of help, it only takes me a couple of hours to put up a batch, and each quart is a promise of the highest-quality tomatoes this winter for soups and stews and sauces. I know where these lovely ‘maters were grown, and just how they were grown and processed. I ran out of my canned tomatoes this year in March, and my salsa at Christmastime, and I’m still smarting from the blows my children inflicted on me when they discovered that we’d have to do without for so many months πŸ˜‰. I hate to buy canned tomatoes. Even the “good ones” taste too much like the can, in my opinion.


Also it pains my wallet to fork out a dollar or more for just one little ole’ can of such sub prime stuff. I’ve never found any canned tomatoes that are as good as the ones I can myself. And salsa? Well, I’ll share my recipe with you as soon as I make my first batch. Later this week, probably. It’s so much more delicious than the stuff you can buy at the store. We don’t buy salsa, either, except for those odd and confusing specialty varieties that Timothy likes to try: ghost-pepper salsa. Pineapple mango salsa. Pumpkin Elderberry Salsa. That sort of thing. Last year I made habanero salsa, which met even Timothy’s approval, which was surprising because he likes things so hot. But that recipe was blazing hot, and he said he liked the taste, too.


I went for purple this year, in the jalapeno department. I'll all about pretty.

I went for purple this year, in the jalapeno department. I’ll all about pretty.

But back to the fall garden. There are many great reasons to consider planting a fall garden, so if you’re on the fence on the matter, these are especially for you. Many folks don’t realize that there’s a full second gardening season which starts in our part of the country just . . . about . . . now. Putting in a fall garden can be a risky business, because you never really know when the first frost and freeze will be, though it’s usually around October 10th in our area, Zone 5. Some years it’s much, much later.

I’ll never forget the year that my mom took a wild hair and put in lots and lots of acorn and butternut squash in late summer. It was really late in the summer to be planting winter squash. People would walk by and shake their heads and cluck their well-meaning tongues. “That Elna. What on earth is she thinking, putting in winter squash so late in the year–?” But we had a very late first frost date that year, and she was laughing all the way–you might say–to the bank. The Squash Bank. She harvested bushels and bushels of winter squash, which she shared with all of us, and we had the most beautiful squashes to eat all winter long. I remember helping her tote them up to the house. It was a brilliant move, almost as if she knew that there would be a late freeze that year. Probably she did. She’s always been a bit clairvoyant.

Oh, do I have a story to tell you about that, Gentle Reader. I’m laughing as I think about it. Please remind me. “Tell me the story about your mom’s supernatural abilities, Amy, please.” Somebody just mention that in the comments someday soon. πŸ™‚

Well, it might be a bit late to plant squash, but there are lots of other wonderful things that you can plant right now that will keep you eating out of your garden much longer than you might expect.

Last year, we put in leeks and carrots and beets and turnips and lettuce and spinach in August, and we had great, lovely edibles in our garden until the new year. We didn’t have to start buying groceries from the store until after Christmas. I get so spoiled at being able to cook and eat most of our meals out of the garden during the summer, that it’s a difficult transition to start having to buy food again. Except for, of course, flour and sugar and butter (no cow yet) and a few other things we can’t produce (coconut milk, bananas, bacon).

So have I got you thinking about what you could plant right now? Hooray! You won’t regret it. The weeds aren’t quite as quick-growing in the cooler days of fall, and many of the insect pests have moved on. And you know that you’re going to be looking for reasons to be outside, in the sparkling cool and crisp fall days to come. Besides splitting wood, of course. Of course there is a plethora of information and planting schedules and so forth online for your area, but I’ll share with you what we are planning on putting in for a fall garden, in case you need ideas.

One more thing: think of a layer of protection over some of your fall garden, if you want to prolong the harvest even further. Think straw bales and old windows, or row covers, or cold frames. Many years there is one hard freeze, followed by several weeks of mild, impossibly delightful weather to follow. So if you can protect your crops from that one freeze, you can get much more from your fall garden.

Blue Beauty, Dr. Wyche's yellow, and Green Zebra. Three more of my favorite pretty heirlooms.

Blue Beauty, Dr. Wyche’s Yellow, and Green Zebra. Three more of my favorite pretty heirlooms. (Seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.)

Okay. Enough rambling, already.

Vegetables well suited for the fall garden include:

  • Semi-hardy vegetables (can stand light frost, 30-32Β° F) such as: beets, Chinese cabbage, collards, lettuce, radishes, winter radishes (Amalia’s favorite thing to grow in the fall), spinach, Swiss chard, and green onions, and whatnot.
  • Hardy vegetables (can stand several frosts but are killed when temperatures drop near 20Β° F): arugula, mache, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrot, turnip, rutabaga and kale, and the like.

If you’ve had the foresight to grow new transplants of cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, and the like, you can put those little plants in now, although you’ll have to protect them, of course, from the notorious white butterfly, the cabbage moth. Β I’d recommend throwing a light row cover over them, until those rascally cabbage moths get thrown off their groove by the cooler weather. Which–hopefully–will be soon!

To decide when to plant your fall crops, get out your calendar and start counting backward from your normal first frost date, which is October 10th to 15th here at our place.

  • Add together the days to harvest, which is usually printed on the seed packet and the number of days you’ll need to harvest a crop.
  • If your plants are sensitive to cold, add in 10-14 days to protect them from early frost.
  • Add in 10-14 days for the “fall factor”, which accounts for slowing plant growth due to shorter day length.

That, by the way, is the technical information I got off of the UNL website.Β 

I’m rarely this methodical. I’ve been tearing out spent glads and sweet peas and snapdragons and cosmos from my hoop house, and as soon as I’m finished, I’ll put in two large beds of fall goodies: mustard greens, baby kale, winter radishes (so Amalia will stop hitting me with a stick), and spinach and lettuces. So I’ll have a layer of protection (the hoop house) over these crops. Out in the garden proper (no protection), Amalia and I are pulling weeds like wildwomen, and clearing out spent beds of spring-planted kohlrabi, beets, cabbages, and summer squash. In those spaces, I’ll plant the hardier vegetables: carrots, turnips, radishes (radishes take only 3 to 4 weeks to come to maturity, so I’ll get at least two more plantings of them in before I have to worry about frost) and so forth.

That’s my plan. What’s yours? Here’s a tip for you: first, go over your seeds left over from the spring. Get your calendar out. Study the days-to-harvest numbers on the back, and figure how many days you have left, if you put your fall garden in within the next few days. Then think about what you and your family would like to eat (no sense in growing stuff that you’re just going to throw to the chickens, anyway) and what you’ve not gotten enough of yet this summer. Then get in there and plant!

Here’s a special treat for you: I’ve put together a sweet giveaway of seeds from my own collection–some from my own garden and my seed-saving, and some from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds–and it includes seeds that do really well in the fall, including radishes, kale (baby kale is great to have in the fall), carrots, and more.

To ENTER: Here’s all you need to do: Share this post (on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever) and then leave a comment below, telling me how you shared this post, and what you are planning for your fall garden. Thanks for checking in, and for entering! I’m only running this giveaway for one week, so enter today!

This Giveaway will end on Tuesday evening, September 2nd, at midnight.

Here are some great options for fall gardening, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:

Here ya go!!

Here ya go!!

For information about fall gardening, you can check out the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds website.

Just for a teaser, look at what’s written about one variety that Baker Creek carries, Japanese Giant Red Mustard. I‘m putting some of this into my garden this week. It sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? I’ve never grown this variety of mustard before, but reading the comments about it really convinced me. So excited . . . !



I’m linking up with The Prairie Homestead Barn Hop: c’mon over and learn something new! Also I’m sharing with the Home Matters Linking Party. It’s fun!




97 thoughts on “Savvy Fall Gardening Tips, & Heirloom Seed Giveaway!

  1. Katrina

    Well, I’ve not tried a fall planting yet (this fall is the first), but peas! Spring peas are my absolute favorite, so I have high hopes for fall ones.

  2. Jillian

    I actually got my fall garden in 2 weeks ago. So far everything is humming right along *fingers crossed*. I was actually considering adding a few more things to it this weekend. If I can find the space!

  3. sojourner

    Your tomatoes are so beautiful. Congrats πŸ™‚ I must admit that my herb garden is completely overrun with weeds. Today, not tomorrow, I need to take care of the situation πŸ™‚

  4. Chef William Chaney

    My my, we do go on don;t we. Well I have about 100 days left before we start our “Spring” garden, so I guess we have time to do a little fall planting..It is fall isn’t it. It’s been chilly around here with showers almost daily so I think it’s fall anyway.
    I sure hope all those weeds are gone before the first of September. You know, before we visit your Plantation. I guess I could toss some work cloths in the back of the car……….na, I’ll let little Mac show me to the tiller…..I can handle one of those……….

  5. AMummysLifeNZ

    I wish I could plant some of those yummy tomatoes and other plants but I have to admit I have given up on my vege patch. Any time I get one going I end up letting the sheep and calf eat it as a supplement!

  6. Alana(@RamblinGarden)

    Our favorite thing to plant in our garden in the fall? Hard to say. Have had variable luck with peas. We’ve had more success with lettuce. Our community garden ends in October so we would actually have more success if we were able to plant at home- here in New York, once, my husband got cauliflower to last to Thanksgiving.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Sometimes cauliflower and broccoli plants can really get a second wind in the fall. Last year, because I was just overbusy, I never did pull the broccoli and cauliflower plants that I harvested from in the spring. They were kinda lost in the weeds. Then in the fall, what do you know–I discovered them covered with new growth!! I harvested the most beautiful cauliflower EVER that fall, from the spring plants. Then this year I forgot to plant cauliflower.

  7. Katie

    Oh, Amy, I’ve got some major tomato envy. (Thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not covet….) Your tomatoes are gorgeous! Because of your blog you’ve inspired me to plant only heirloom plants next year and then henceforth. And I’ve got my nice, new raised garden bed my husband built me (I shared the pic with you on facebook the other day) to fill up with such loveliness! I am one excited girl.

    I loved this post on fall gardening, it’s a project I’ve been wanting to do.– I’ve learned so much from your blog! How do you make room in your garden from your summer veggies to plant for fall? I’m thinking of yanking out my zucchini and maybe some of my uber-prolific cucumbers in order to plant some fall veggies. I’m thinking carrots and maybe kale.

    Anyway, thanks again for the beautiful post.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Hooray! I don’t think you’ll regret changing over to heirlooms, Katie! The “Conventional Wisdom” says to also plant a few hybrids, just in case the heirlooms fall prey to diseases but honestly I’ve never had a problem with it. I don’t plant my tomato plants in the same spot year after year, though. Be sure to get the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Catalog, Katie, and you’ll be drooling over those pictures until next spring!

      To answer your question: I make room by yanking out anything that is finished (beets are mature, so I’ll pull them) or that I’m just tired of (I’ve been neglecting the zucchini plants and they are buggy, anyhow). Give yourself permission if something is frustrating you (those kohlrabis didn’t bulb out the way they should have, AND we are tired of eating them anyway) to just pull it out. Add a bit of compost (oops I should have added that to the post) and plant! Have fun! Carrots and kale should be great, AND you can plant the kale close together for baby kale. You might not have time to grow it to full size, but baby kale leaves are awesome in salads and stirfries. Happy gardening!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      It’s one last Final Hurrah! from the garden, Dee! One last curtsey to summertime and all the fruitfulness it brings!

  8. Shelly C

    Such beautiful veggies! I love Baker Creek…I actually found a pkg of their Black Krim tomato seed in some old seed we was dated 2008. Planted them all , got 30 some plants up, lost a few and struggled to find space in our garden. Finally managed to raise over 20 and they have beautiful green tomatoes on them, some beginning to blush… can’t wait to eat them!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Black Krim are some of my favorites. I just love the really dark tomatoes. I think they have such a rich flavor. That’s amazing that those seeds are still good after all these years! It sounds like you’ll have plenty of tomatoes this fall! Yum!

  9. Mari

    Since you get cold weather quicker than Texas, you are ready to start planting. It is still hot, hot, hot – our hottest month is August – so I am in the planning stages of a winter garden. Almost every year since I have begun gardening at this particular location, I have spent my falls preparing and recovering from foot/ankle surgeries. This year I can actually plant a winter garden and take care of it myself. It is a FIRST! Yippee. I think Bakers Creek has the best catalog ever, and wonderful seeds besides. I have purchased from a lot of different places, but they have the greatest variety. My fun plant this year is the Jelly Melons. What a novelty they are. It generates a lot of conversations, to be sure.

    Thanks for all the fun pictures of your tomatoes, peppers and of course, the kitty! I love to see others who grow heirloom stuff like I do. I can’t wait to get your salsa recipe! Do you make it with fresh tomatoes, or tomatoes that you have frozen? I pop a lot of my tomatoes into the freezer, then pull them to make up sauces and stuff. I wonder if they would work for salsa? I would like to can up some for winter. Yummmmm!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Strange thing–we’ve had very little HOT weather here in Nebraska this summer. I’m trying not to wonder why. I’m just enjoying the mild weather. Regarding salsa: I can mine up during tomato season, with fresh tomatoes, though I’m quite sure that frozen tomatoes would work just as well. That’s a great strategy, by the way–chucking your excess tomatoes into the freezer when you’re so busy, to process them later–I just don’t have the freezer space, so I’ve got to work them up, oh, say,–today!! I’ll try to post a salsa recipe next week! Not A salsa recipe, but THE salsa recipe! πŸ˜‰

  10. Alana(@RamblinGarden)

    Hi Amy, I meant to tell you yesterday that the link to Baker in your rafflecopter doesn’t work. I went back today and it still didn’t work. I ended up registering manually. Don’t know if it’s me or if there really is a problem with the link. You-know-who in NY, who still hasn’t planted the borage. Perhaps I should write a post called “why I haven’t planted Amy’s borage yet”: maybe in September.

  11. Lesa

    Going to put my first Fall Garden in. I am mainly looking forward to Spinach, Broccoli and Beets. Hopefully this week-end I can get it all in. Also plan on putting Garlic in this fall (Also a first). Love your site Amy.

  12. Farm School Marm

    What a fun blog post (and I feel your pain about the weeds…and especially the grass!) We are just now starting to get some of our tomatoes coming on…our growing season is so short I rarely have any hope of big tomatoes…but we are eating some AWESOME smaller ones – also from Baker Creek. In the picture of the many tomatoes, what kind are the mostly-purple-with-some-green? (Now…I gotta go read why your blog is so-named….)

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I’m so glad you asked because . . . I’m not sure! I’m awful about labeling my tomatoes, always figuring that I’ll just KNOW . . but I planted several dark varieties this year. I ordered seeds from several sources, and then a few friends shared seeds with me, too. I’ve narrowed it down to the following: Purple calabash, Paul Robeson, Cherokee Purple, or Golova Negra, all from Baker Creek. I’ll let you know if I ever do figure it out. πŸ™

  13. Pam

    I have almost finished planting my first fall garden and am very excited about the potential to get even
    more fresh produce. Thank you for offering the seed giveaway. Only heirlooms go into my garden, so I can use all the help I can get in acquiring seeds. It would be very helpful to have the seeds for next fall’s garden in advance to help streamline the garden planning that will need to be done this winter.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Hey sweetie, check the newly planted bed in the hoop house . .. guess what those little sprouts are . . . . πŸ™‚

  14. Katie

    I just made my first Baker Creek seeds order and I’m so excited! Have you heard of the Seed Guy, Amy? ( That’s another place I like to buy heirloom and organic seeds.

  15. Danylle

    I have never planted a fall garden before, but have been looking at what I could try. I’m thinking garlic, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage & beets? It all sounds so wonderful! πŸ™‚

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      The nice thing I’ve found about gardening in the fall, Diane, is that everything comes up so quickly. I planted radishes and turnips and the seeds germinated in 2-3 days!

  16. Barbara Williams

    I shared the link on my facebook page and I’m hoping that some of my friends will try to win seeds also. For the fall we plan on planting sweet potatoes and some greens. We are still in the learning process of planting in GA. clay. Had some successes and failures this summer with our garden. But love growing my own food. It makes you feel good.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Sweet potatoes! I’ve never tried growing them here in NE for a fall garden. Did you know that the leaves are edible? I’d imagine that your growing season is much longer than ours. Blessings!

  17. Kaurie

    What a great post! I shared via Facebook. This year, our winter garden will have anew addition, Brussels sprouts! I’m excited to try this for the first time. We’ll also have some kale, cabbage, and root veggies. So excited, and thanks for sharing this post with us!!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Well, Rochelle, I hope you get it down this year, too! The best thing to do is just to keep working at it! You’ll always have some success and some failure!

  18. Sandy B

    We have planned a fairly aggressive fall garden for us. We are relative newbies to gardening, but we have broccoli and cauliflower, beets, lettuce, and cabbages planned, oh, and some garlic to over winter and maybe onions and potatoes. of course, just started green beans and pees again! This year I hope to actually USE that pressure canner I got last year, but have been too frightened to try out yet!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Wow, that is an impressive array of fall crops. Now I hope for you a nice long cool fall to enjoy them all! I hope you get the nerve to try out the pressure canner, too! There are lots of tutorials online. I’d watch a few of them until you feel less frightened of it!

  19. Caroline

    I shared this post on Facebook – For my fall garden I have planted carrots, beets, started cole crops, and will plant a variety of lettuce and other greens.

  20. Lizzie

    I shared the post on Facebook. I never seem to plant enough, or get a good enough harvest, of my Spring planting of peas (and this year was SOOOO wet). A guy at the Farmer’s Market used to have the BEST Fall peas…might be time to try it myself!

  21. Madelyn Barnes

    Shared. Thanks so much for the tips, and giveaway! I am in a community garden right now and have planted beets and kaleidoscope carrots. Unfortunately I was hoping for a large Brussels sprout harvest this year but 6 of my 10 plants were stolen right out of the ground πŸ™

  22. Paula C. Henderson

    just saw your comments on BakersCreek Heirloom Seeds, which is my favorite seed company. I’m planting my first ever fall garden and am looking forward to lettuce and collards and kale, etc and will be watching you for additional information, as well.
    thanks for the opportunity to enter the contest.

  23. Valerie A.

    Today’s fall planting in Tennessee- lettuce and kale. Tomorrow parsnips and swiss chard. Running alittle late but hopefully ok!

  24. Sue

    Great post. It’s my second year doing a fall garden. I’m going to try beets carrots turnips chard and onions. Love bakers creek seeds. Posted the link on Pinterest.

  25. Alana(@RamblinGarden)

    I’ve not been able to give your blog the time it deserves the past several weeks and won’t be able to this week either so I am going to skip the giveaway. Our garden has been neglected and we must be out of our community garden by the last week of October, anyway. I just wanted to say “thank you” and I hope whoever wins has a grand time with your seeds.

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