Guide for planting a fall vegetable garden

Depending on which Plant Hardiness Zone you live in, late June through mid-August is the high point for harvesting tomatoes, peppers , onions, sweet corn, beans and herbs. But it’s also time for the second wave of the gardening season – sowing seeds for a fall vegetable garden.

 
broccoli for fall harvestMany of the vegetables sown from seed in March or April – vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts and peas – can be sown again in mid to late summer to be enjoyed in the fall. In fact, many of these vegetables taste far better when they mature in the fall, as they aren’t tempted to go dormant or go to seed, as they do in the summer heat, which can often introduce a bitter flavor. You also may get an extra bonus when leafy greens like spinach, or herbs like parsley overwinter in mild temperatures, making them available for harvest very early the following spring.

Prepare your soil for planting. After you’ve cleared your garden bed of the summer harvest and all of that crop’s debris, re-condition the soil by working plenty of compost into the top six inches with a hand cultivator.  The added compost is important for moisture retention because your seedlings will develop during the hottest period of the year and their growth will suffer if the soil becomes dry and cracked. Also, plant the seeds a bit deeper than you would in the spring, as the extra depth may protect the seed from drying out before germinating. Depending on the condition of your soil, you may also want to add a small amount of organic fertilizer, but if you’ve been following solid organic gardening principles for a few years, the added fertilizer may not be necessary.

How to grow onions – which types are best for your area?

 

Other tips for a great fall crop of vegetables:

  • Do not allow seedlings to dry out – make sure they get at least one inch of water each week
  • Side dress seedlings with more compost two weeks after they emerge – this should create sufficient nutrition through the entire season
  • If you’re experiencing an unusually hot fall, cover the crops – especially leafy greens – with row covers or some other material to shade them
  • If you experience an unusually cold fall and potential early frost, cover your seedlings with milk jugs or blankets or cloths suspended from stakes
  • Root crops like carrots can be left in the ground through winter if mulched heavily with one to two feet of straw, hay or leaves. Do this before the ground freezes
  • Unlike seeding in spring, soil is warmer now, but days are shorter, which means seed germination may be faster, but days to maturity may be longer
  • If frost is imminent and your leafy greens haven’t reached full maturity, pick and eat – they’ll be delicate and sweet when small
  • If you’re not planting vegetables or herbs in your garden beds, make sure you plant cover crops to protect the bed from winter weather

The table below shows the most popular and productive fall vegetables and herbs. The maturity dates are only a rough estimate and will vary considerably depending on what zone you’re in. In fact, the maturity dates can vary by as many as 15 days on either side of the data here. As every experienced gardener knows, the best way to test maturity is to let your taste buds be your guide: taste test your crop as it closes in on the maturity date.

Before planting, know your regions’ first frost date. Then work backwards using the data below, which will help you determine the latest date at which you should plant for a fall garden harvest. For instance: The most likely date for first frost in my area is October 21. So if I’m planting carrots, with a maturity date of 80-95 days at this time of year,  my seeds must be in the ground no later than July 18. If planting Spinach which matures in 45-65 days, seeds must be sown no later than August 17.

Note: A frost can occur anywhere from 36 F to 32 F. A light freeze refers to temperatures between 28 F and 31 F, a moderate freeze between 24 F and 28 F, and severe freeze below 24 F.

 

Seed Sowing Dates for Fall Vegetables

Vegetable
Days To Maturity
When frost comes...
Basil30-60Dies
Beets50-60May survive - hardy into high 20's F
Bush Beans45-65Dies
Broccoli55-75survives light frost
Brussels Sprouts80-90survives down to 20 degrees F
Cabbage55-90survives down to 20 degrees F
Carrots80-95survives light frost if covered with mulch
Cauliflower55-75survives light frost
Cilantro60-70survives light frost
Collard Greens70-80survives down to 20 degrees F
GarlicHarvest following July overwinters in ground
Green Onion60-70survives down to 28 degrees F
Kale40-65survives down to 20 degrees F
Kohlrabi50-60survives light frost
Leaf Lettuce40-60survives light frost
Mustard Greens30-40survives light frost
Parsley60-70may overwinter if mild
Peas70-80 survives down to 28 degrees F
Radishes25-40survives until soil freezes
Spinach45-65survives light frost, may overwinter if mild
Swiss Chard40-60survives light frost
Turnips50-60survives light frost
Information provided by University of Minnesota Extension and University of North Carolina extension

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About Todd Heft

Todd Heft is an organic gardener and freelance garden writer who lives in the Lehigh Valley, PA and has gardened for most of his life. When he isn't writing or reading about organic gardening, he's gardening. His first book, "Homegrown Tomatoes: The Step-By-Step Guide to Growing Delicious Organic Tomatoes In Your Garden" is available on Amazon now. Google
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