While most vegetable growers deal with the harvest of their vegetable gardens, some prepare for their most productive growing season of the year–Fall. Fall vegetables, such as root crops and leafy greens, require less watering and sustain less insect and weed pressure. Lower temperatures trigger a release of sugars that give crops a sweeter or milder flavor.
Popular leafy vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, arugula, kale, bok choy and mustard greens, are easy to grow in cool weather and can be directly seeded into soil or garden planters. Root crops like radishes, turnips, carrots and beets have short crop times and can be planted by seed into the fall months.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a national hardiness zone map with 13 zones to help gardeners and growers pick the best plants for where they live. Here are a few tips for beginner fall gardeners.
Plant carrots at the end of July into early August 1/2 inch deep. Thin sprouts to 1/2 inch apart. Three weeks after planting, spread additional soil to prevent sunburn and green tops. Harvest when carrots are 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. Baby carrots are ready in about 50 days; full-size carrots may take up to 80. Carrots can benefit from a light frost and can be left in the ground until a killing frost.
Beets can also be planted through late July and early August. Soak seeds at least 24 hours before planting or pre-sprout in a moist paper towel. Beet greens can be harvested as you are waiting for the roots to develop. Taking about a third of the plant tops for an addition to your salad or morning eggs will not affect future harvest. Thin seedlings 2 inches apart. Harvest when they reach 2 inches in diameter.
The radish is the fastest fall crop, ready to harvest in about a month and can be planted until the end of August. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep and thin sprouts 2 to 4 inches apart.
Kohlrabi, turnips and rutabaga can be started from seeds. Rutabaga takes the longest and seed should be sown in late July to early August. Kohlrabi is reminiscent of broccoli stems and can be planted through mid-August. Kohlrabi and rutabaga should be thinned to 5 to 6 inches. Turnips can be planted as late as the end of August and then thinned to 2 inches.
Leafy greens can be grown in full to partial shade in September and October. A mixture of leftover seeds from spring planted weekly into early September will make great baby greens salad. Include kale, Swiss chard, mustard, lettuce, bok choy, collards, arugula, endive, watercress and even beets. For the best taste, harvest when leaves are shorter than three inches. Larger greens are better cooked. Greens thrive in consistently moist soil that’s high in organic matter.
While fall offers a second chance at growing cool-season vegetables, it is important to know the first frost date of the season. Whether you are growing an early winter crop of sweet carrots or leafy greens, now is the time to start thinking about fall vegetables.