Fall Gardening with Kids

A Fall Garden with the Kids

Friends, I am SO excited that I was finally able to plant a fall garden with the kids!  After doing all of the prep work to make new garden beds for the kids this year, and even after we started some seeds indoors, we failed miserably at getting their gardens planted.  It was sad for sure, so when it dawned on me that we could plant fall gardens instead, the kids and I got really excited.

Speaking of excitement, I have the opportunity to do another seed giveaway for you from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company!  This one is for a set of seeds, perfect for a fall garden.  I’ll have more details at the bottom of the post, so keep your eyes open for that information!

Where to Begin?

The trouble was, I have never planted a fall garden before.  I’ve read about them and have wanted to plant some, but I’ve always thought of it too late, or forgot, or just didn’t know where to start, and so I lost my window of opportunity.  At the beginning of the month, it dawned on me that I could, indeed do a fall garden this year.  I had the time to prepare myself and prepare a garden space.  Initially, I was thinking I’d plant in a patch of space where we had the chickens do prep work and we’d plant the kids gardens, but time got away from me and I figured if I could only plant in my garden or plant with the kids, it would be far more beneficial to plant with the kids.

I started my preparations by doing some research.  I needed to figure out what I could plant and when.  You can’t just plant anything any time of the year and expect it to grow and reach maturity.  Some plants don’t like too much heat (like lettuce, it will bolt, and other plants wither under the strain of the heat), and some don’t like the cold AT ALL, and will wilt really easily or freeze really easily.  I had an idea of what these plants would be, but I took the time to dig around and find the best lists I could for planting a fall garden.

I found some good lists, but I still had a problem.  The problem is that not every article is written by somebody that lives in zone 5.  I might not be able to grow what somebody in zone 6 can grow during the same amount of time because of the temperature differences we experience in a season.  And even after researching plants that could be done in zone 5, I kept coming up with conflicting advice.  Finally, the thing that helped me out in figuring what to plant was this simple piece of advice.  Look at a packet of seeds (you are looking for faster growing varieties) and see how many days it takes a plant to reach maturity.  Then figure out your FIRST frost date and mark it on your calendar (or at least take note of it, mental or otherwise).  Count back from the first frost date the number of days it takes for a plant to reach maturity, and that’s roughly when you need to be planting.  It’s probably better if you can add a buffer of about a week or so between days to maturity and your frost date (so for example instead of 65 days, go 72 days from first frost).   Keep in mind also that some plants will take a long time to germinate, so that could potentially throw off your maturity date.

Okay, good advice.  I’m already at about 10 weeks from my first frost date (October 5th) as of today (July 23rd), so I probably shouldn’t be planting plants that will take longer than 10 weeks to mature, unless they are very cold-hardy.  (Remember that a first frost date is an average.  It can come earlier or later, so be aware that you still may need to take measures to ensure your plants don’t freeze.) This is where reading a seed packet really comes in handy.  It’s unfortunate that not all seed packets are equally informative, but take whatever information you can get.  Pay attention to things like days to germination, days to maturity, labels like “cold-hardy” or “cold-loving” or “short growing season.”  It’s not that you can’t plant seeds that take a long time to emerge, but if you do, make sure you know it.  Watering is so important in the beginning of any garden, once the seeds are planted until a few days after germination, but even more so in the summer when your garden is more likely to dry up.  If a packet says it takes 100 days to reach maturity, that’s most likely too long for you to have success at growing those seeds (unless you live in a warmer climate).  Cold-hardy means it will hold up to cold temperatures, and potentially even to frost.  Cold-loving might mean it prefers cold weather, and will actually grow better.  And short growing season refers to the days-to-maturity.

After all of my research, I was still having conflicting answers on what would be good to plant and what would not be.  Something one person swore by, another would say “DON’T DO IT!”  so I decided to pick a bunch of things that were consistent among everybody and a few things that seemed like they could potentially be successful.  One thing I read several times while researching is that if you can grow a lot of these plants successfully for a fall garden, you’ll end up with sweeter vegetable, particularly with root vegetables.

Finding the Right Seeds (I Hope)

I ended up pulling out some of the seeds from my seed box for planting, and I picked up about $17 worth of seeds from the store as well.  I had read about somebody in zone 5 in Minnesota growing sweet corn successfully that she planted at the beginning of August (But I lost the link and can’t seem to find it anywhere!), but it required a very short growing season.  Hers was the only reference to planting corn so late in the year (most people wouldn’t recommend it after June) so I looked at the variety she planted and looked for what made it successful.  I found out that it grows fast, but it’s short, and it only produces a couple of ears per stalk.  That’s fine with me, but it was also really good to know that, because most of the corn I grow gets to be REALLY tall and will produce a lot more ears per stalk than that!  I also purchased some iceberg lettuce, even though I couldn’t find days to maturity on the pack, bunching onions (scallions), two varieties of short in length, short in growing season varieties of carrots, extra spinach, turnips, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.  From my seed collection, I pulled out both the Lincoln peas and the sugar snap peas, some other varieties of carrots, bush beans, and zucchini.

Back in late winter/early spring, the kids and I prepared their gardens.  We put down a bunch of cardboard from the holidays onto a plot of grass where we wanted their gardens to go, and we covered it in wood chips.  (We still have a substantial pile of free wood chips, so we’re using those where we need and when we need it.)  After the wood chips were down, we put up a small fence with some scrap wood and old chicken wire.  It’s really mostly to keep the kids from trampling their siblings’ gardens.  They wanted their own personal gardens, not some group effort thing, and why not?  We are blessed enough to have the space and the resources and I want my kids to love gardening, so this is a good way to get them going.  Pumpkin didn’t want a traditional garden though, he wanted a greenhouse.  So we built one from scrap wood and we used some clear plastic sheeting we had laying around and we covered his greenhouse with that.  We decided to use a collection of old coffee cans to plant his seeds this year.

We were prevented from planting their gardens by a bum knee and a fire in the chicken coop.  And Pumpkin’s green house was blown over and the plastic all ripped, so it was no longer a greenhouse, but simply a frame.  The gardens were put on hold indefinitely, and the greenhouse re-covering would have to wait until we had better resources.  Thankfully, the cardboard had done a good job of killing off grass and keeping weeds at bay (though it wasn’t perfect), so the amount of weeding was minimal when we were finally ready to start planting.  And though Pumpkin’s greenhouse isn’t a greenhouse at the moment, we used an old sheet to act as sort of a tarp (though I don’t know how effective it will be) and placed the frame on top of that and put his coffee cans on the sheet as well.  So all was definitely not lost.

Planting the Fall Gardens

There were definitely weeds in their gardens.  Some worse than others.  I spent maybe about an hour working with the kids to weed all of their garden spaces, which sounds like a lot, but it really wasn’t.  Especially when you consider that they had never been weeded.  The mulch and the cardboard really made the weeding easy.

Pumpkin filled his cans with soil and found a small garden spider in one.  Then he asked me what plants would grow well in cans.  Corn probably wouldn’t, he predicted, but peas and beans might, and so would bunching onions and lettuce, and “oh, I’ll try growing some carrots anyway.” (He picked the shortest variety to give them the best chance.)  He grumbled about coming out to work in his garden space, but when he finally started filling up those cans, he had a huge smile on his face!

Miss Lady was ecstatic to see that the watermelon she started from seed indoors months ago was still alive and doing well in her garden.  And honestly I was, too!  We had taken their starts outdoors to transplant them, but they needed a lot of help to plant it at the time because the ground was still riddled with roots from the grass and the cardboard was still fairly intact.  But she and Peanut had each transplanted a couple of things that actually survived!  She wanted to plant carrots and corn and peas in her garden, and we planted parsnips and lettuce and cabbage as well.

Doodles planted carrots, onions, corn, peas, zucchini, parsnips, and something else that I can’t remember at the moment.  He helped plant some things but quickly lost interest once he picked out what he wanted planted.

Peanut planted corn, Lincoln peas, beans, turnips, carrots, parsnips, zucchini, lettuce, and Brussels sprouts.  The watermelon he had transplanted was still growing, and doing pretty well, and he had also started a marigold that was growing and flowering, much to our surprise.

Chances are I’ll try and work an area in the next couple of days in my own garden where I can put more of just about everything.  We planted a lot of carrots, but I want to plant more since we go through so many in a year, and I want to plant all of the corn that we purchased to get as many ears as possible.  I could have been a little more cautious of planting 10-12 weeks before first frost or 8 weeks before first frost, but honestly, life is always crazy around here, so when you get an opportunity to do something, you take it!  We’re at about 10 weeks before first frost, and it shouldn’t really matter all too much if we plant some of the crops at 10 weeks out instead of 8 weeks out.  I hope!  I’m just happy I was able to do a fall garden with the kids.

Now, about that giveaway.  Nine of my blogging friends, plus myself, are teaming up with Baker Creek once again to host a giveaway for you!  We all have a love for gardening, and each of us has written a post that pertains to gardening in some way.  There are posts about gardening successes and failures, and post containing great information on fall gardens.  The titles of their posts pretty much say it all, and I hope you’ll jump over to their sites to read their posts to learn more!   Baker Creek is graciously providing us with 12 packets of seeds, perfect for a fall garden.  You can expect to find carrots, lettuce, spinach, peas, and beets along with some plants that while cold-hardy, require a little more work to get started.  Keep in mind that if you find yourself the winner of the prize and aren’t able to plant something successfully this year, you can just pop those seeds in your refrigerator or freezer until next year and plant them then!

The giveaway starts Monday, July 23rd (2018) and ends Monday, July 30th at 8 a.m. which means you have one week to get entered and share this giveaway with your friends!  The drawing will be done at random by Giveaway Tools, and one winner will be chosen.  You must be a resident of the U.S. and you must be 18 or older to enter.  After the name is drawn the winner will have 36 hours to confirm their prize with us, or another name will be drawn.  Remember, we want to get these seeds to you ASAP!  To enter the giveaway, you must fill out your name and email address into the form below, and click on the highlighted word “begin” to submit your entry.  It’s kind of small, so make sure you look for it!  You get one free entry for filling the form out, and you can gain additional entries by completing tasks on the drop down list.  No duplicate entries.  And I get this question a lot, “If I’ve already followed somebody on Pinterest/FB/ect… can I still earn an entry point?”  The answer is yes, you can!  Just click on it and it will prompt you as to what to do

Kathi Rodgers- Oak Hill Homestead:  When to Plant a Fall Garden

Jennifer Allen- Faithful Homestead: Fall Gardening in a Drought

Amber Bradshaw- The Farmer’s Lamp: 7 Tips for Preparing Your Fall Garden

Janelle Veldkamp- Homestead in the Holler: Tips for a Successful Fall Garden

Angela Twombly- The Inquisitive Farm Wife: Gardening Woes, But it’s NOT Too Late!

Michelle Visser- Souly Rested: What Every Gardener Needs to Know About Egg Shells and a FREE downloadable book–Composting: The Low-Down an a Few Things You Should Know

Clarrissa West- Clarissa R. West: Backyard Garden Basics For Homemakers With FREE Printable

Michelle Curren- Mid-Life Blogger: D is for Discouraging

Terri Steffes- Our Good Life: Bouquets from My Cutting Garden 2018

Even if you don’t win, you can still head over to Baker Creek’s site and order your fall garden seeds!  They’ve got a helpful staff if you have questions.  I also recommend checking out Territorial Seeds and Johnny’s Select Seeds if you are looking for a wider variety of options.   Don’t forget that you can plant garlic now for an early harvest next year.  I know those are always a limited selection for the cloves or bulbs, but now is the time to look!

I would love to know about your fall gardening experiences!  Have you ever planted one?  What is your favorite thing to plant for a fall garden?  Drop me a line in the comments!  I’ll be sure to share pictures and an update of our garden once it’s really had a chance to grow.  And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe so you can follow along with us on our crazy homesteading journey!


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