Planting for a Fall Harvest: Fall Vegetables

Plant a fall vegetable garden—and extend your harvest. In late summer, you might think the garden is winding down, but this is the perfect (and easy) time to bring in those wonderful cool-weather vegetables. 

I love fall gardening—less pests, less watering and weeding, and more pleasant weather conditions. 

In warmer regions, many crops grow just as well in the fall as the spring, especially spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, and kale.
In colder climates, many of these same vegetables are frost-tolerant. Many crops taste better after a frost or two.

As soon as your spring and summer crops stop producing, pull them and make room for all those delicious fall crops! There are just three steps to consider.

1. Find Your Average Fall Frost Date

Timing is everything. To plan what to plant in your fall garden, consult the Almanac to find the first frost date for your area. Where I live, it is around September 20 but often it is another month before we get a killing frost. There is a lot of glorious gardening weather between now and then. Next look at the days to maturity on your seed packets. Even though the days are beginning to shorten, the soil is warmer than it was in May so seeds sown now will germinate much faster.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac also has a garden calendar which calculates fall planting dates based on your local frost dates, so it’s all figured out for you! See their Best Dates Planting Calendar.

2. Check “Days to Harvest” on Each Crop

What should you grow? Check the seed packages to see the “days to harvest” information. Then, count back from your first frost dates to see if you have time to plant and harvest the vegetables. Here are my favorite vegetables to grow:

Fast growing, tender veggies like summer squash and zucchini will bear fruit in 45 to 50 days. 
Many varieties of cucumbers are ready to eat in under 50 days.
Bush beans take about 6 to 8 weeks to reach a harvestible size. The only problem with these crops is that they will be killed by frost unless you plan to protect them. If you live in an area with a long growing season, this will not be a problem.

As the weather cools, plant crops that are cold-tolerant and mature quickly. 

Salad greens are fast and hardy; leaf lettuces are ready to cut in 45 to 50 days. Looseleaf and butterhead leaves can be harvested at just about any time in their development. 

Sometime lettuce seeds have difficulty germinating in hot soil, so I start my new baby lettuces in flats that I can keep well-watered and shaded until the plants are large enough to transplant into the garden. Some varieties of lettuce such as ‘Winter Marvel’ and ‘New Red Fire’ are more cold-tolerant than others. 

A quick crop of radishes will be ready for the salad bowl in 25 days.
Other root crops, like carrots, beets, and turnips, will take longer, but are worth the wait since they seem to get sweeter as the days get cooler.
Snap peas and snow peas start to bear in 60 days and peas that mature in cold weather seem especially sweet and crisp. Pea vines can survive temperatures down to 25 degrees.
Fall-planted spinach does much better than spring planted spinach since it is maturing during the cool weather it loves instead of struggling in the summer heat.
Swiss chard is another hardy green that reaches an edible size in 25 to 30 days. Given some extra protection when frost threatens, spinach and chard can last well into fall. If well-mulched, in many parts of the country spinach will winter over and give you an extra-early spring crop of the best spinach you’ve ever tasted!

Broccoli and kohlrabi mature well in cool weather and will not be bothered by the cabbage moth larvae as much as spring-planted cold crops are.
Kale is a winter staple. Try blue-green ‘Winterbor’ or pretty purple ‘Redbor’. They can be harvested long after other greens have been killed by cold weather.

The real stars of the fall garden are the Asian greens. Quick maturing varieties can be harvested in 45 days. Tatsoi, pac choi, mizuna, and napa are all in the brassica family. They can weather a frost and will last through a hard freeze if given some protection.

Some Asian greens like hon tsai tai and mibuna are more closely related to mustard (also a brassica), which gives them tangy leaves that add a pleasant bite to an autumn salad or stir fry. Other greens such as arugula, mache, minutina, and claytonia can withstand quite cold temperatures, providing you with lots of interesting salads and cooked greens well into late fall.

3. Keep Watering

If you are starting cool-weather vegetable seeds (or transplants) in late summer, just keep in mind that fall is different than spring. The air and ground temperature is already hot.

It will be important to keep your seeds consistently watered. Adding mulch also helps water conservation. If the heat and Sun in your area is too intense, consider a lightweight row cover. 

Fall can be a second spring. After harvesting garlic in July, there will be lots of room for fall crops. Freshen up the empty beds with some compost and get ready to plant your second garden.

Want even more advice on planting your fall garden?  

You’ll love this video on Succession Planting: How to Harvest More from Your Vegetable Garden.
Here is a very handy chart from The Old Farmer’s Almanac which lists the last planting dates for second crops in your region.

Tell us all about your second garden in the comments below!

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