Grow Your Best Fall Garden Vegetables: What, When and How

For gardeners wanting to get the most from the time they have, here’s expert advice on planting and growing fall garden vegetables.


| August/September 2009



Growing cabbage

Cooler temperatures will make your fall vegetables taste crisp and sweet. You will harvest the best carrots, broccoli, red cabbage, beets, and kale after the first frost is long gone.


WALTER CHANDOHA

Right now, before you forget, put a rubber band around your wrist to remind you of one gardening task that cannot be postponed: Planting seeds for fall garden vegetables. As summer draws to a close, gardens everywhere can morph into a tapestry of delicious greens, from tender lettuce to frost-proof spinach, with a sprinkling of red mustard added for spice. In North America’s southern half, as long as seeds germinate in late July or early August, fall gardens can grow the best cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower you’ve ever tasted. In colder climates it’s prime time to sow carrots, rutabagas, and turnips to harvest in the fall. Filling space vacated by spring crops with summer-sown vegetables will keep your garden productive well into fall, and even winter.

Granted, the height of summer is not the best time to start tender seedlings of anything. Hot days, sparse rain, and heavy pest pressure must be factored into a sound planting plan, and then there’s the challenge of keeping fall plantings on schedule. But you can meet all of the basic requirements for a successful, surprisingly low-maintenance fall garden by following the steps outlined below. The time you invest now will pay off big time as you continue to harvest fresh veggies from your garden long after frost has killed your tomatoes and blackened your beans.

1. Starting Seeds

Count back 12 to 14 weeks from your average first fall frost date (see “Fall Garden Planting Schedule” below) to plan your first task: starting seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale indoors, where germination conditions are better than they are in the garden. Some garden centers carry a few cabbage family seedlings for fall planting, but don’t expect a good selection. The only sure way to have vigorous young seedlings is to grow your own, using the same procedures you would use in spring (see Start Your Own Seeds). As soon as the seedlings are three weeks old, be ready to set them out during a period of cloudy weather.

If you’re already running late, you can try direct-seeding fast-growing varieties of broccoli, kale or kohlrabi. Sow the seeds in shallow furrows covered with half an inch of potting soil. Keep the soil moist until the seedlings germinate, then thin them. The important thing is to get the plants up and growing in time to catch the last waves of summer heat.

When is too late? The end of July marks the close of planting season for cabbage family crops in northern areas (USDA Zones 6 and lower); August is perfect in warmer climates. Be forewarned: If cabbage family crops are set out after temperatures have cooled, they grow so slowly that they may not make a crop. Fortunately, leafy greens (keep reading) do not have this problem.

2. Think Soil First

In addition to putting plenty of supernutritious food on your table, your fall garden provides an opportunity to manage soil fertility, and even control weeds. Rustic greens including arugula, mustard, and turnips make great triple-use fall garden crops. They taste great, their broad leaves shade out weeds, and nutrients they take up in fall are cycled back into the soil as the winter-killed residue rots. If you have time, enrich the soil with compost or aged manure to replenish micronutrients and give the plants a strong start.

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morgans
9/3/2015 8:06:39 PM

Really enjoyed your article Barbara! I love that you included a section about keeping soil damp. Nothing worse that waiting weeks to pull carrots from your garden bed and finding they're only the size of your index finger :/ I'm curious to get your opinion, and I guess any one else who cares to contribute, on a raised garden kit I saw on Facebook. Have you ever grown in a garden in minutes garden kit? They're a little more expensive than other raised garden kits but the included irrigation system is tempting. https://gardeninminutes.com/category/raised-garden-kits/ Curious to see what you think. Thanks!


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9/25/2009 7:59:31 PM

where can I get the vitamin green spinach-mustard seeds?


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8/25/2009 6:47:20 AM

Lynn, In our book, Compost Gardening (http://www.motherearthnews.com/shopping/detail.aspx?itemnumber=3663), co-author Deb Martin and I call what you’re doing Comforter Composting, because the layers are like a cushy comforter. As long as there is some soil in your layers, you can go ahead and use the beds for gardening. This type of compost will only heat up if it contains a lot of nitrogen-rich manure, and then the heat would pass very quickly. Good luck with your spinach! Try some arugula and mizuna, too, and maybe some baby bok choy. All very fast, very easy.


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8/23/2009 6:41:17 PM

Thanks for the info. We began constructing U-shaped raised bed in a 12'x12' area this summer. The plan was to have it ready for spring 2010, but we ended up planting spinach and other late crops. We used the no-dig/lasagna garden/sheet composting method and I'm wondering if the heat produced from this method will help extend the season? We will also be covering the crop as needed.


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8/8/2009 11:54:14 PM

Planted our fall garden today with my three year old. Only planted Cukes, radishes and collards, but it will be a practice run for next years spring garden! Thanks for the info for one who is finally becoming self - sustaining. EW


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7/30/2009 8:28:47 PM

oops sorry, I didn't mean to add that comment... had copied and pasted it accidentally from somewhere else! I was going to say I can't wait to give lettuce a try! A little tip I have is that I use lettuce leaves instead of those oil blot sheets, like this: http://www.pantryspa.com/free-recipe/fabulous-face/oil-blot-sheets/59/index.html


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7/29/2009 6:30:00 PM

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headred_1
7/29/2009 8:47:43 AM

Your article will inspire me to get thinking about my fall garden. It is always so difficult to be intensely into ripening tomatoes and have to think about starting seeds again! But then I always wish in Oct. that I would have thought more about it. Hope to do my first fall garden this year! Thanks! www.whatupduck.com






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