August is Prime Time for the Fall and Winter Garden
For many Illinoisans the first hard freeze signals the end of the gardening season. It is a time to clean up the garden and store what it has reaped and plan for next year. But as author and farmer Eliot Coleman, among others, has shown year round vegetable production is possible even in the harsh climes of Illinois. August is the time to start planning and even planting for your winter garden.
Illinois is as far south as the Mediterranean Sea and receives more winter sunlight than the South of France. Taking advantage of this fact and using unheated and minimally heated greenhouses and row covers one can enjoy freshly harvested vegetables in the dead of winter. Common vegetable crops that are produced in Illinois for fall and winter harvest include cole crops, several varieties of greens and several hardy bulb type crops as well.
A fall and winter garden will add more vegetables to your supply and make use of you garden plot for a much longer time. The fall garden requires less time and labor because the soil was already worked up in the spring. Many vegetables, such as kale and Swiss chard, are known to develop a better flavor when harvested after the weather freezes. Many other crops, such as broccoli and cauliflower, develop a higher quality when grown in the fall rather than during the mid-summer.
If you do plan to grow vegetables for fall and winter harvest, right now is a prime time to start planting. According to the University of Illinois Extension:
“Timing is critical for this type of production to be successful. August signals an important time period to begin seeding a number of crops. The idea is to get the majority of the growth the plants need completed before the coldest temperatures of winter arrive.”
When planting in
August or September for the fall and winter garden you generally follow what is done when planting in the spring but there are several things to keep in mind. It is generally hotter and drier this time of year and this should be taken into consideration. The soil temperature will be higher at the end of summer compared to the spring. For several types of vegetables this will affect the germination rate.
Many growers who do grow in the fall and winter use various types of protection to enhance their ability to produce a crop during this time of year. The use of floating row covers and hoop houses will give the grower an advantage and will provide good protection against cold, frost and drying wind. Row covers and plastic can even be used inside a hoop house giving and added layer of protection to crops. Of course, a hoop house can also be heated if you want to go through the expense of doing so.
The planting dates for a number of fall vegetable crops for Central Illinois are up to this week for beets, carrots, endive, snap beans and summer squash. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage can be planted now as well and can be directly seeded but they generally do better from transplants. Kohlrabi and winter radish can be planted from August 15th to the 24th. Leaf lettuce, mustard, spinach, spring radish can be seeded from mid-August to mid-September.
A couple of great resources for planning a winter garden are two books by Eliot Coleman. His
Four-Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook are extensive in detailing how to grow vegetables even in winter in cold climates like Maine, where he resides. Using different techniques and types of protection as shown in these books, vegetables can be grown in all four seasons in our Illinois climate.