A Second Spring: Fall Gardening

Best Vegetables for a Fall Garden

Sep 25, 2017
Second Spring: Fall Gardening

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Even though the calendar says it is fall, we have been enjoying a second spring in the garden. Albert Camus said that autumn is a second spring because every leaf is a flower. True, since the foliage is starting to turn, but for me it is a second spring because we are harvesting spring veggies again.

After pulling our garlic this year we had seedlings of lettuce, bok choy, chinese cabbage, and kale ready and waiting to plug into the empty beds.

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I also started some new spinach and swiss chard from seed hoping it will last into cold weather. Ever the optimist, I planted more bush beans, summer squash, and cukes, knowing that I will have to cover them when cold weather threatens.

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New baby summer squash will replace the tired plants that have been producing since June.

Best Vegetables for Fall

If you plant in the fall, it is important to choose vegetables that are frost-tolerant. This means knowing your local frost dates.

  • Vegetables that can survive light frosts in the 30 to 32˚F range include beets, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, celery, collards, green onions, potatoes, Bibb and leaf lettuce, mustard, parsnips, radishes, salsify, spinach, and Swiss chard. The flavor of some of these, such as collards and parsnips, is, in fact, much improved by exposure to a spell of below-freezing temperature.
  • Even hardier vegetables that can survive temperatures as low as 20˚F include cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, kale, leeks, rutabagas and turnips. Upon thawing out, these hardy vegetables will continue to grow between freezes.
  • Even if the vegetable tops wilt, the roots will survive with mulching and you can often harvest through the winter!

See the Almanac gardening calendar which shows planting date ranges for popular vegetables.
 

Every August I try to convince my farmers’ market customers that they should be planting their fall gardens but I don’t have many takers. Most give me the fish eye like I am trying to put something over on them. These are the folks that do a marathon planting session on Memorial Day weekend and then scratch “planting the garden” off their to do list—done for the year! They don’t realize that many crops can be put in the ground before that traditional planting day and others need to be planted later when they can mature in colder weather. The plants produce better and the work is spread out over several weeks. A large part of our market day is spent educating people about the possibilities.

Now that the tomatoes are ripe how can you make a BLT if your lettuce all bolted a month ago? All you salsa lovers have plenty of hot peppers and tomatoes but where did the cilantro go? Some crops need to be planted more than once.

Needless to say, now that our market season has ended I have lots of leftover plants but that is just fine with me. Since the onions have been pulled and the potatoes harvested, I have some more empty beds waiting to be filled.

Of course it isn’t all as rosy as some of the gardening books would like you to think. The second spring for us is also a second spring for the bugs as well.

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A new crop of tiny baby slugs has been dining on my tender greens and the cutworms are still on the prowl. An unseen cabbage moth laid her eggs on my new kale plants in hit-and-run fashion. I thought it was too late in the season for that but wrong again!

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Cutworms are still active so be sure to protect your new seedlings.

Harvesting fresh new lettuce makes me think of spring instead of fall which is not my favorite time of year. (Too much work needs to get done before winter sets in.) For now I will enjoy my tomato sandwich with plenty of lettuce before I have to start raking those falling leaves.

Read more about raking fall leaves!

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

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