Not long ago it was the Summer Solstice, which means that here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are getting shorter. It can be hard to think about fall crops when you’re just getting busy weeding your onions, trellising your tomatoes or hilling your potatoes, but take a break today to prepare for the autumn months. With lower levels of light, more consistent moisture, and the occasional light frost, cool weather crops can excel well into the waning days of fall.
1. Figure Out Your Last Frost Date
To figure out exactly when to plant your fall crops, it is important to know when the first frost will arrive in your area and count backwards from there. Some varieties are particularly sensitive to the frost, like broccoli, beans and winter squash, while others hold well in the field in cool weather and can tolerate frost. Keep in mind, however, that when you plant in mid-to-late summer, day length and temperatures are different than when planting in the spring, so check your planting info carefully for these factors.
- For your estimated first frost date, check out Dave’s Garden First/Last Frost Date Tool.
2. Check For Specific Planting Guides Relevant to Your Region
As we all know, the United States and Canada contain a multitude of growing zones, so what we plan for up here in Vermont may not be applicable at all to a grower down in Georgia.
- For that reason, we’ve put together a list of Fall Planting Guides by Region.
3. Narrow down your crop choices to what grows well in cooler temperatures.
Below is a suggested list of crops that grow quickly and perform well in the cooler days of fall.
Plan to harvest carrots after the first frost but before the soil freezes. Some varieties, like Napoli, may be over-wintered in a high tunnel or even outdoors with an appropriate cover.
The beet is a hardy fall crop that can tolerate light frosts and freezes. Beets can be planted up until 6-8 weeks before last frost date. (See our Organic Beet Varieties)
With the best head development occurring at 60-65 degrees broccoli, is a favorite fall crop. Direct seed or transplant broccoli in mid- to late-summer for a harvest after a few light frosts. (See our Organic Broccoli Varieties)
We carry a handful of fresh market cabbage varieties that take just over two months to mature. Cabbage seeds will germinate in soil as low as 50 degrees, and can be planted along with broccoli in mid-summer. (See our Organic Cabbage Varieties)
The flavor of kale only improves with the onset of cold weather, sweetening after a few light frosts. Sow fall plantings two months before first frost date for full size, and up until the first frost for baby kale. Kale can over-winter in most climates to some extent. (See our Organic Kale Varieties)
A quick-growing cold weather crop with the same health benefits as broccoli or kale, kohlrabi is the next big thing. Kohlrabi can be direct seeded or transplanted in late summer for a fall harvest. If you’re looking for a bit of diversity in your root cellar this year, try our Kossak F1 Hybrid kohlrabi, which will keep for several months in cold storage. (See our Organic Kohlrabi Varieties)
Like kale, Brussels sprouts improve in flavor dramatically after a few frosts. Many growers transplant these in late summer for a very late fall harvest. They only get sweeter with cold weather, so collect your sprouts when the snow flies or cover for a mid-winter treat. (See our Organic Brussels Sprouts Varieties)
A surprise to even veteran growers, peas grow well in the cool temperatures of autumn and can germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees. Plant peas in late summer once the temperatures have dropped, and make sure they’re adequately watered in dry weather. Peas are most sensitive when flowering, so try to cover them if you’re expecting a frost. (See our Organic Pea Varieties)
Chard can be seeded all season long, preferring cooler temperatures for germination. A good bet for winter high tunnels, Swiss chard can bring a colorful leafy green into your diet late in the season. (See our Organic Swiss Chard Varieties)
Spinach germinates very poorly in soil temperatures over 60 degrees. Late summer is a great time to plant spinach for a fall harvest, but can also be over-wintered under cover or in a high tunnel. (See our Organic Spinach Varieties)
Lettuce also prefers cool soil for germination, but can take up to twenty days longer than average if planted in autumn. Quick growing and very tolerant to cold temperatures, lettuce is a must-have for any fall planting. (See our Organic Lettuce Varieties)
4. Immediately Plant the Crops With the Longest Dates To Maturity
Immediate attention should be given to those crops with the longest days to maturity and the least tolerance for frost. Some crops will do better if they are started in cell trays first, then transplanted – others can be sown directly into the ground.
5. Enjoy your Fall Harvest!
With a little prior planning, you can utilize every single growing day in your garden and maximize your harvests. Here’s to a bountiful garden!