Planting Fall Crops

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Planting Fall Crops

It’s Time to Plant Your Cool Season Vegetables. Here are Tips by Growing Zone.

Are you sad to see your summer garden dying back? Don’t fall victim to the winter blues; instead plan a fall garden so you can keep your garden productive and keep your hands in the dirt. There are many cool season crops that you can plant this fall to extend your growing season and keep fresh food on your dinner table longer. Haven’t grown a fall vegetable garden before? Don’t worry, it’s easier than you might think!

Growing Vegetables in the Fall

A fall garden is the perfect way to keep your garden going. It’s a great way to continue growing fresh vegetables, while keeping your soil productive. Your summer garden was likely filled with squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers. A fall garden will look a little different.

Crops that thrive in the cooler months are hardier and can handle a dip in temperatures. Leafy greens like kale, spinach, and lettuce will thrive when daytime temperatures drop below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Root crops like carrots, turnips, radishes and beets will also do well in cooler temperatures. Cruciferous vegetables are commonly grown in the fall. Plant broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower at the end of summer to get a fall harvest.

When to Plant a Fall Garden

It’s pretty simple to know when to plant a spring garden. Once the temperatures start to warm up, you can start seeds or put plants into the ground. It’ll be on the forefront of your mind since all of the farm and garden catalogs will be arriving. Knowing when to plant your fall garden can be a little trickier.

You’ll need to start by knowing your first average frost date. You can look up average first frost dates using your zip code here. The first average frost date will give you an idea of when you can expect an average first frost. This is important to know because some fall crops can handle a frost or two, while others will need to be harvested before the frost.

Use the frost date as a general guideline. It’s a good idea to add two weeks to that frost date as a buffer, just in case you get an early frost. For example, if your first average frost date is October 15th, plan on your first average frost coming as early as October 1. This will reduce the chances that an early frost will knock out your crop if it isn’t cold hardy. If your first frost doesn’t come until the 15th, then you’ll have two extra growing weeks.

Once you have your buffer date, you can start to work backwards to get an idea of when you should start seeds and plant outdoors. You’ll find the number of days to maturity for your crops either on the seed packet or on our website. Use this number and count backwards to get an idea of when to start your seeds. Take into account whether your plants are frost hardy or not. Plants that are frost hardy, like kale or carrots, can be planted closer to your frost date as a frost won’t kill them.

Direct Sow or Start Indoors?

You can direct sow the seeds for your fall garden in the midst of your summer garden. The last days of summer will be warm enough to help your fall seeds germinate. Some seeds can be directly sown into the soil of your garden. This works well with root crops that don’t transplant well, like carrots and turnips. These seeds can be sown right into the rows between your summer crops. As the summer crops die back, simply cut the tops off of the spent plants to allow sunlight to get to the fall crops.

Other plants need to be started indoors for the best results. Lettuce and leafy greens grow quickly. Some varieties can be ready to harvest in a month. For non-heat tolerant varieties, temperatures over 65 can cause them to bolt. Heat-tolerant varieties can withstand a few more degrees, but will bolt if temperatures are above about 75 degrees for more than a day or two. It’s a good idea to start these seeds indoors and transplant them outside once the temperatures are cool.

Cruciferous plants take longer to mature. You can start them indoors also. This gives them a longer period of time to grow before you take them outside. Similar to leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables are subject to bolting if the temperatures are too warm. Because of the longer period of time that it takes for them to grow and mature, it can be tempting to direct sow them into the ground at the end of summer. This means that they’ll be growing outdoors when the temperatures are still warm, which can lead to bolting.

Managing a Fall Garden

Your fall crops will need different care than your summer crops did. They’ll need a slightly different fertilizer and watering will look different. Once your crops are in the ground, you’ll want to make sure they are consistently moist, cool, and well-fertilized. Compost is a great way to add a mix of nutrients to your soil.

Fall crops don’t produce fruits the same way that summer crops do in most cases. They produce edible leaves, stems and roots, which means they need slightly different fertilizer than summer crops. You’ll want to use a fertilizer that promotes leafy and root growth. Look for fertilizers that have plenty of nitrogen and phosphorus. Nitrogen helps to promote leafy growth while phosphorus helps to grow developed, fleshy roots.

Cool season vegetables do the best when temperatures are in the 50s and low 60s. They still need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight. When you move your transplants outdoors, keep an eye on the weather. A day or two of warm temperatures can cause your plants to bolt, which produces plants that aren’t edible. If you notice warm temperatures, you can put shade cloth over your crops to help keep them cool. You can also water them directly overhead to cool them down.

Fall vegetables require consistently moist soil. Your summer crops shouldn’t be watered overhead, but the rules are a little different for your fall crops. Cool season vegetables seem to love being watered from above. There is little or no damage that is caused by watering them from above. It’s a great way to keep them cool and happy.

Harvesting Fall Crops

Some fall crops can be harvested once, while others can be harvested multiple times. Root crops can be harvested once. With root crops, you’re pulling up the entire plant to harvest it, so you’ll only get one harvest out of each plant. An exception to this is if you’re using the top of the root crop also. For example, turnip tops, or greens, can be harvested and eaten. Once you pull the turnip up, you won’t get any more greens from it.

Loose leaf lettuce and leafy greens can be harvested multiple times. Simply cut a few leaves from each plant, leaving enough growth behind so that the plant can continue to produce enough food and energy for itself. Lettuce and cruciferous vegetables that produce a head will only be able to be harvested once.

Fall crops will allow you to keep fresh produce on your table longer, while keeping your soil productive. What fall crops will you plant this year?