Growing is an act of faith and foresight. Faith because you plant these seeds, tiny embodiments of life, small parcels of potential, and you trust that with the proper conditions and care, they will grow. Foresight because in farming and gardening, you are always thinking seasons ahead, anticipating the earth’s next rotation.
We choose varieties and plan successions while the days are short and the thermometer practices nose-dives. We sow our first seeds in the greenhouse with snow blanketing the ground. But we know that the seasons will change, and this is why, even in the height of summer, when our fields are frantic with growth, we need to slide our attention briefly to focus on planning for harvests in the waning light of fall.
There are many crops that can be planted in mid- to late-summer for fall harvests. Crops like carrots, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower thrive under fall’s cooler growing conditions and can withstand light—and in some cases even heavy—frosts. However, timing is essential in ensuring a successful fall harvest.
Determining Planting Dates
As a first step, it is important to know the date of first frost in your growing area. If you don’t already know when this is, talk to other growers or check out a previous blog article on Fall Planting Guides By Region. It is also important to remember that plants’ growth rates slow down as the days get shorter; crops that you had a hard time keeping up with in the spring will be noticeably slower to mature in the fall.
Virginia Cooperative Extension has a handy formula to help you determine when to plant for fall harvest:
- Take your first frost date for your area
- Subtract the number of days from seeding or transplanting outdoors to harvest (this is the days to maturity)
- Subtract the number of days from seed to transplant if you start your own seed
- Subtract the average harvest period (this is the length of time you expect to be harvesting your crop)
- Subtract the Fall Factor (about two weeks)
- This equals your fall planting date
So, for example, if we say that here in Northern Vermont, our first frost date is October 1st and we want to figure out when to plant De Cicco broccoli for fall harvest, we could approach it like this:
The High Mowing Organic Seeds catalog lists the days to maturity for De Cicco broccoli at 48 days from transplant. So, we need to add another 4 weeks, or 28 days, for the time from seed to transplant. De Cicco has a long harvest window, so let’s say 21 days for the harvest period.
- 48 days to maturity
- 28 days seed to transplant
- 15-20 days harvest period
- 10-14 days Fall Factor
So, about 100 days before October 1st means that you’ll want to seed your fall broccoli around June 15th.
Some Stand-Out Varieties for Fall Harvest and Storage
Yaya F1 carrots – Sweet, uniformly straight and cylindrical. Yaya F1 is a beautiful carrot variety and is perfect for the fall for several reasons. One is that it is a quick growing variety, so it works well for fall succession plantings or later planting dates. Another is that it has been a stand-out in our carrot storage trials for sweetness.
Deadon F1 cabbage – Deadon F1 is a savoyed cabbage with gorgeous color: purple-red blush on the outer leaves overlaying a lime green interior. This variety is amazingly cold tolerant and can withstand several frosts or freezes, which only make its flavor sweeter. Deadon F1 is a late maturing variety so does require some advance planning.
Impala F1 cabbage – Impala F1 also takes a long time to mature, but this is our longest storing cabbage variety – up to 4-6 months! It’s a round, green cabbage that can be used for fresh eating, cooking or kraut.
Primax cabbage – If you still want cabbage in your fall garden but you don’t have time to plant Deadon F1 or Impala F1 then Primax is a great choice. It won’t store as long, nor will it tolerate freezing temperatures, but its eating quality is more tender and juicy.
Fiesta F1 broccoli – This is a quality variety that does very nicely in the fall. The harvest window is fairly concentrated, which is great for CSAs, an end of season market splash, or a fall vegetable processing party!
Siberian kale – Most varieties of kale will tolerate cold temperatures and frost well, and develop more sweetness for it. However, Siberian kale has shown itself to be a particularly cold hardy variety.
Bandit leek – A stout shorty of a variety but one that withstands cold temperatures and frosts very well. With mulching, this variety can hold in the field through much of the winter.
Renegade F1 spinach – Heavy leaves on Renegade F1 give this variety a lot of weight, and as a result this was the highest yielding variety in our overwintering spinach trials. It is also fast-growing, deep green and tasty!