Some home growers are intimidated by fall growing because of the cooler temperature, especially since most of their current crops are suited for summer. But a lot of vegetables thrive during fall, so you can still enjoy a bountiful harvest when the temperature drops.
The trick is to choose the right crops. Fall is the season for growing various hardy greens that flourish in cold temperatures, such as spinach, kale, and mustard greens. Fast-growing root crops and some spring-harvested vegetables also get a second chance in autumn. Some even taste sweeter and crisper when matured in cooler temperatures.
The first step is to get the timing right for planting your fall seeds.
Most autumn crops are seeded in mid- to late summer when the soil is dry. The timing can make it difficult to establish roots, but you have to plant early because growing days are limited.
Many cold-weather crops, such as spinach and lettuce, won’t germinate when the temperature is too high. Full-coverage garden watering systems can help since they surround all plants with water, helping to maintain consistent soil moisture and prevent overly wet or overly dry patches in your garden. You can also build a hoop house over your garden bed using a shade cloth to shelter your crops from the hot sun. This will help your seeds and seedlings take root even if you plant them in mid-summer.
One trick is to determine the first frost date in your location and the days to maturity of the crops you want to grow. Add one to two weeks to the maturing time indicated on seed packs to account for shorter, cooler days. This information will help you calculate when best to plant.
Four Fall Veggies to Grow!
Spinach is among the most cold-tolerant salad green. It can survive some light frost, making it the perfect autumn crop. The cold temperature also helps the spinach produce tastier leaves.
Plus, spinach and other leafy greens grow well in raised garden beds. Leafy greens despise soggy roots, so they love the quick-draining soil in raised beds.
Spinach Growing Guide
Sow spinach seeds as early as six weeks before the last frost, or as soon as you can get a trowel into the soil. Be sure to buy fresh seeds every year because spinach seeds don’t store well. Seed heavily because not all of them will germinate.
Spinach is a leafy green, so it will greatly benefit from a hoop house or cold frame. Once the seedlings have at least two true leaves, thin them to three or four inches apart to prevent overcrowding. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Hand-pulling weeds and cultivating can harm the spinach roots. Instead, layer a light mulch of grass clippings, hay, or straw on the soil along the spinach rows to hinder weed growth.
Replant a fresh batch of seeds every two weeks to have spinach growing until winter.
Lettuce is the base of a fall salad garden. Apart from giving you a bounty of fresh salad greens, a lettuce garden is also very ornamental. The vivid range of colors, shapes, sizes, and textures make an aesthetically pleasing garden bed. Vulcan, Red Salad Bowl, and Winter Density are some great fall-harvested lettuce.
Just like spinach, lettuce is a leafy green, so their planting and growing requirements are similar. Lettuce sulks when the temperature gets too high. The seeds can join your spinach in the hoop house to protect them from the heat, along with other leafy greens.
Lettuce Growing Guide
Choose lettuce with loose leaves if you’re growing it in partial shade. You can plant the seeds directly into the garden bed’s soil. Don’t sow too deeply because they need light to germinate.
For most leaf lettuce varieties you can grow 6 plants per square foot.
Lettuce doesn’t need to develop deep roots. In fact, you want to encourage leaf growth more than rooting. Water your lettuce frequently, consistently, and lightly. You want the soil moist but not soggy, similar to spinach. Leafy greens tend to rot when overwatered.
Most varieties of lettuce can be harvested 30 to 70 days after planting. Time the harvest depending on your preferred leaf size. You can remove a few leaves at a time or cut the whole head near ground level. Harvest every other lettuce plant to give the remaining heads more room to grow.
Carrots are a staple in hearty autumn stews and vegetable medleys. Since they’re a root crop, carrots grow well in raised beds. The advantage of garden beds is you can choose your soil depending on the crop you’re growing. Carrots love deep, rock-free soil that gives them space to grow big.
Carrot Growing Guide
Sow your carrots three weeks before the last frost, then replant every two to three weeks after the initial batch. Make sure to plant your last batch two to three months before the first expected frost.
Clear the surface of the soil from rocks, trash, and other large pieces of debris. Sow the seeds about half an inch deep, planting 6-16 carrots per square foot (reference the Garden In Minutes® plant spacing guide for extra insight on how to determine your carrot varieties spacing needs). Cover them with a quarter-inch of soil/compost to encourage the seedlings to emerge. Water gently to avoid washing the seeds away.
Once the tops reach 2 inches in height, thin (remove) any carrot seedlings that are growing on top of, or right next to each other, leaving the largest of the seedlings still growing. You can gradually apply extra soil as the seedlings grow to retain moisture in the soil. If the soil dries out, slowly remoisten the bed over a period of days. Drenching the carrots suddenly may cause the roots to break.
Don’t hand-pull weeds because carrot roots are fragile. You can cut them at ground level to avoid crowding your crops.
Plant your carrots along with other root crops, such as radishes and beets. This makes it easier for you to remember their care requirements.
Pumpkins are another fall staple. Plant them mid-summer if you want them ready in time for Halloween. You want pumpkin varieties with a tough skin and thin inside flesh for the perfect jack-o’-lanterns. But Baby Pam and Long Pie make the best pumpkins for eating because they have thicker flesh.
It can be difficult to plant pumpkins since they need plenty of room to grow and creep. You can still grow them in a raised bed, but ensure each plant has about 2 square feet of its own growing space for roots to spread. Vines and fruit will of course take up more room and are fine to creep out of the garden or if you prefer, you can use sturdy trellises to support the weight of the vines, leaves, and fruits.
Pumpkin Growing Guide
Sow your pumpkin seeds in an area that gets full sunlight. As with other vegetable crops, gently soak your pumpkins once a week. Pumpkin leaves tend to look wilted in the afternoon heat, but this doesn’t immediately mean they’re thirsty. Avoid watering the plants when this happens. Check if the foliage perks up again in the evening or under a cloud cover to confirm if your pumpkins are parched.
Harvest your pumpkins when they reach your desired size and color. Make sure to do it before the first heavy frost, since pumpkins are not frost-tolerant.
Apart from these four crops – spinach, lettuce, carrots, and pumpkins, other fall superstars include arugula, brussels sprouts, zucchini, and turnips. Some herbs also thrive in autumn, such as cilantro, parsley, and basil, among others.
Choosing fall crops all comes down to your preference. But you also want to take note of the sunlight in your garden to provide the best growing conditions for your crops. Ask your greengrocer, local grower, or the store you bought the seeds from about the specific needs of each crop.
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