The secret to a fall garden is to be thinking about it in the early Spring. Succession planting, companion planting, and timing of a second planting are required for success. For example, you will want to start your turnips when you are harvesting your corn, or your fall peas as you are pulling your ripe tomatoes.
Some vegetables, such as lettuce and radishes do great with succession planting. This is adding seeds to a new row every 5-7 days and harvesting previous rows as they mature. Adding in row covers or a hoop house are other ways to extend your gardening season.
Let’s look at some of the vegetables you can grow in the fall, no matter what climate you live in.
Great for both a fall vegetable and an early Spring vegetable, radishes are tough and can survive a fair amount of exposure to cold and frost. They are easy to grow and mature relatively fast, with many varieties being harvested in 21-28 days. Plant radishes about 1/2 inch apart, and thin to 1 inch when the greens come up from the ground.
Pull radishes when they are young and the top portion of the radish is about 1 inch across. Winter varieties of radishes such as China Rose can stay in the ground all winter long as a perfect place to store them. Radishes also make great companion plants for zucchini, peppers and winter squashes.
The heads of cauliflower become tender and more robust during the cold weather. Cauliflower actually prefers cool temperatures and will only thrive when daytime temps are less than 80 degrees. Keep in mind that harvest time for cauliflower is 85-100 days when grown from seed for starting seeds indoors. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep, with a maximum of 8 seeds per 1-foot row. Thin plants to 36 inches and keep at least 15 inches between rows for proper growth.
Harvest cauliflower when the heads are approximately 6 inches across, cutting with a sharp knife. The plant will grow new, smaller heads as a replacement. To keep worms off cauliflower, consider planting dill around the base of each cauliflower plant.
Beets are grown for their roots and they are best grown from seed. You’ll want to start your seeds 10 weeks before your first heavy freeze. Sow seeds 3/4 inch deep, 1 inch apart. Thin seedlings to 6 inches for larger root storage in winter. Beets can be harvested 50-70 days from planting.
You can allow the root to grow a bit as you like, but larger roots can become woody and tough. Both the root and the greens are delicious in recipes, with the greens being used like chard or spinach. Beets can be frozen, canned, or pickled for storage.
Usually more tender and sweet in the fall, turnips also experience fewer bug problems in the fall than in the Spring. Sow turnips after pulling green beans, corn, or onions as a fall crop. Broadcast seeds in full sun, covering with 1/2 depth of topsoil. Thin plants to 4-6 inches apart, with 12 inches between rows once the seedlings are about 4 inches high.
Like beets, both the roots and the greens of turnips can be used. Harvest time is approximately 42-70 days, depending on variety. Harvest after the first light frost for a sweeter flavor. Young turnips can be peeled or eaten like you would eat an apple.
Rutabagas are often mistaken for turnips, and they can be grown together. Rutabagas do not like temps above 75 degrees F, and temps that are consistently above 80 degrees can cause rapid bolting. Broadcast seeds in the same way as turnips, but allow 2 inches between seedlings and 15-18 inches between rows.
Harvest is best when the roots are 2-3 inches in diameter as they are more tender at this time. For storage, cut the greens down to 1 inch from the crown and store at temps just above freezing. They prefer a damp environment in storage, with humidity levels at 90-95%. If you wish, you can leave them in the ground over the winter period and harvest them during spring.
Great for partially shaded areas of the garden, cabbages make a great fall planting. Late cabbages can be started in mid-summer, and seedlings planted 12 inches apart. If you choose to direct sow the seeds, plant 1/2 inch deep and thin to 12 inches when the seedlings are 3 inches high.
Harvest cabbages after the first light frost by using a sharp knife and cutting to 1 inch above the ground. You can harvest anytime after the heads form, typically after 40-50 days. Best storage methods for cabbage are fermenting into sauerkraut for cold storage or canning sauerkraut for pantry storage.
An excellent companion for tomatoes, parsley is a winner in the fall garden. Great for both beds and containers, it can grow in both sunny and partial shade areas and can handle light frost. Plan to start your seeds 6-8 weeks before your first frost, and plant 6-8 inches apart.
To harvest your parsley, choose the outer stems and leaves the first year to allow the plant to regrow. The second year, take from the inside of the plant to get more tender parts. Simply pluck with your fingers about 2 inches from the top of the soil. You can dehydrate or freeze parsley for use in all recipes, and it’s great in herbal teas. Add fresh parsley to the bone broth for added minerals, too.
A member of the brassica family, broccoli is another one of the best fall vegetables. It’s rich in vitamins, low in carbs, and has a lot of versatility in culinary uses. For fall planting, start your seeds 8-10 before your first frost, and plant seedlings 12-24 inches apart, thinning to 24 inches with 36 inches of space between rows. Harvest time is typically 85-100 days from seed.
Like cauliflower, the heads are harvested when they are 5-6 inches across. Cut carefully 2-3 inches below the head with a sharp knife, which will allow the heads to regrow. Broccoli can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days, or blanched and frozen, storing for up to 1 year.
Lettuce has many varieties that can be sown throughout the year. It is another one of the fall vegetables that do well in both beds and containers. While it’s great for a fall garden, as the harvest time is typically 21-23 days, lettuce needs protection from frost. Use a hoop house, or take your containers inside when frost is imminent.
For a continual harvest, plant lettuce in succession rows, 7 days apart. Harvest lettuce by using sharp scissors and cutting 2 inches above the top of the soil to allow the plant to regrow. It’s best to harvest lettuce before the heat of the day when the sun is directly on the plants.
Garlic is the vegetable of hope. You plant this in the fall, about 6 weeks before your first frost, and allow the plant to lie dormant all winter. Your harvest of the garlic will not be until the following late summer, taking approximately 8-9 months for full growth.
Plant the cloves 2-3 inches apart in rows 3 inches apart. Cover with 1 inch of topsoil. When the shoots are 2-3 inches high, cover with 6 inches of heavy straw and mulch to allow the plants to survive the winter. Harvest the following late summer when the greens have turned brown and appear to have died off.
Garlic is the vegetable of hope. You plant this in the fall, about 6 weeks before your first frost, and allow the plant to lie dormant all winter. We could all learn a lesson from garlic.
Rich in vitamins A and C, you can use kale in smoothies, salads or as greens. It can be planted in late summer for harvest just before the first hard frost. A light frost will make the leaves sweeter. Use a hoop house to protect plants when hard frost is imminent for a longer harvest. To plant, broadcast about 1 cup worth of seeds over at 25-foot row, or 1/4 cup of seeds in a container with loamy, well-drained soil. Cover with 1/2 inch of loose topsoil, then thin seedlings 8-12 inches apart.
To harvest kale, cut leaves from the stems with a sharp knife when leaves are the size of an adult hand. Pick about a fistful of leaves per plant, avoiding the centermost leaf (the terminal) for a continued harvest. Store the leaves by refrigeration for up to 5 days, or by blanching and freezing for up to 6 months.
Although commonly an early Spring planting, peas are great for the fall garden, too. They love the colder weather, and can even tolerate a bit of snow. Although a light frost is okay, use a hoop house to protect from hard freezes. Plant your peas 6 weeks before hard frost, 1/2 inch deep and 1-2 inches apart. Thin plants to 3 inches, and use a trellis to support climbing plants. You can enjoy the plant seedlings you thinned on sandwiches, in smoothies or salads.
Peas can be harvested in 45-60 days, depending on variety. Carefully pluck the pods from the stem to allow for further growth. Store the peas by either blanching and freezing, or by canning in a pressure canner.
Carrots can be a challenge to grow, as they need very loose, well-drained soil. They are perfect for succession planting with cabbages and need full sun. However, when you work the ground to 6 inches deep, loosening it and adding compost, the result will be delicious, sweet carrots. Sow directly in the ground or in loose containers. Thin seedlings when they are 2-3 inches high to 4 inches apart.
Harvest the carrots after about 55 days. You may need to pull one of the plants to check on growth. Carrots can be left in the ground over the winter for harvesting fresh. Simply mark your rows, then dig up before the ground becomes too hard. Use succession planting to get a longer fresh harvest and protect later plants with a hoop house.
You can also blanch and freeze or can carrots for pantry storage. Carrot tops are delicious as a pesto or in salad greens as well.
The best variety of leeks for the fall garden are the late-season varieties such as Surfer, or Blue Solaise. Plant late season leeks in the early Spring, as they take longer to grow, approximately 100-110 days. Sow directly into the soil, covering with 1/4 inch topsoil. Protect the seeds from being washed away by Spring rains until they are well established. Thin seedlings to 6 inches, allowing plenty of space for their roots to grow.
Leeks can also be planted in a container, but keep them in clusters of no more than 2-3 to allow plenty of room. Leeks do best in partial shade, but can also grow well in full sun. To protect the white stalk, you will need to cover the plants to allow it to blanch. Once the plant is 3-4 inches high, place a toilet paper roll or paper towel tube cut into pieces over the plant. This will keep the stem from turning green.
Leeks can be stored in the ground all winter, and dug up as needed. Simply cover with a thick layer of mulch to protect your plant. They will store in the refrigerator for 5-6 days but do not do well with canning or freezing. Dehydrating leeks is best for longer pantry storage to maintain their texture. The dehydrated leeks go great in soups, stews and other dishes where an onion flavor is desired.
A Southern culinary tradition, collards need temps below 75 degrees F to thrive. Higher temps can cause the plant to bolt or become bitter. Plant collard seeds in late summer, 6 weeks before frost. Collards need a lot of room to grow, so sow seeds directly into the ground, with 24 inches between rows. Thin seedlings to 18 inches once established. Harvest time is generally 65-70 days.
Harvest collards anytime after the leaves reach 6 inches in length by snipping with a sharp pair of scissors. Cut 2 inches from top of the soil, harvesting outer leaves and leaving younger inner leaves to continue to grow. Store collards by blanching and freezing for up to 6 months, or dehydrating and using as chips or grinding into a powder for adding to smoothies and sauces.