PLANTING YOUR FALL GARDEN – 5 tips to get the most out of the growing season

  1. Plan Ahead: Having a plan in place can mean the difference between seamless bountiful harvests and the “hopefully it does better next year” mantra. At the farm, we use a planting schedule to help guide us in choosing the best time to start seeds and transplants; for the Phoenix area, we use the Vegetable Planting Calendar for Maricopa County from the University of Arizona Extension. Having a succession plan is also important, planting seeds or transplants of the same variety every few weeks will allow for multiple harvests.
  2. Remember that Planting Dates are not the End-all-be-all: Here in Arizona, we have hot summers and slightly less hot fall seasons. Despite the planting calendars saying it is time to start seeding plants like carrots and broccoli into the ground, the steady 115℉ daily temperatures have made us weary for our seed germination. When starting to plant these seeds outside we are making sure they are in a moderately shaded area and receiving water at least three times a day. To help mitigate this, starting more seeds indoors will allow us to have a larger transplant planting to compensate for seedlings not being as productive in the heat. Gauging the right time to plant comes with experience and a good foresight into what the weather in the weeks to come may look like. Even if you do plant seeds and are worried about their success in the summer heat, planting in a semi-shaded area or using a removable shade apparatus can help reduce summer stress on fall crops.
  3. Start seeds Indoors: Starting Seeds indoors is beneficial for a number of reasons. Many crops have much more success when they are transplanted rather than direct-seeded. Crops such as cauliflower, herbs, lettuce, and many cut flower varieties perform better when transplanted, whereas carrots, beets, peas, and squash perform perfectly well going straight into the ground. At the farm we use a small room off the garage that is air conditioned to 65℉ at all times, this allows us to start seeds in a cool environment under grow lights. If you do start seeds indoors make sure that you ‘harden off’ your seedlings before planting them into the garden. This practice involves putting seedlings outside for shorter periods of time to get them acclimated to the change in temperature. If you live in a climate like Phoenix, going into the fall season, your spoiled seedlings that were living in your air conditioned home could suffer from shock if placed directly into 100 degree heat, the same can be said for transitioning crops from greenhouse warmth to the cooler outdoor temperatures in the spring season.
  4. Get the Most from Your Space: Here at the farm, our goal is to grow food, and grow it everywhere while still maintaining an attractive yard space. We operate on a half-acre of land and are always looking for new ways to find growing spaces we didn’t know we had. Our current project is a vertical planter wall with planter boxes which will serve not only as a beautiful way to hide our compost piles, but also will allow us to grow more lettuce and herbs in a space we didn’t have before. If you are a backyard gardener, never underestimate the infrastructure you already have. Using different spaces in your yard/garden will allow you to have better succession plantings and reduce possible pest infestations and disease. Instead of planting all your squash successions in the same area, separating them will help reduce the concentration and impact certain pests like white-flies can have on your crops.
  5. Make sure You Start the Season with Good Soil: In Phoenix, soil is not necessarily known for its great nutrient availability and water retention, so oftentimes gardeners have to supplement their soil, and add to it often. At the farm the majority of our crop production is done in raised beds; to start our fall planting we will be adding new soil to the beds as well as some of our compost. Throughout the growing season, we will add liquid fertilizers to the beds in the forms of fish fertilizer (water/slush that we drain from our ponds), compost tea, and bokashi. Also leaving in roots of plants that you are removing can help maintain healthy microorganisms in the soil, so we will for example often cut down to the base of the stem of a crop like cauliflower and leave the root system in place. Making sure to keep your soil healthy throughout the season will make it that much easier to be ready for the next growing season.

If you live in the Phoenix Valley area, these are the planting calendars we use at the farm for reference:

This calendar is for flowers in the Phoenix area: