Planning the Fall Harvest

Summer is finally here…time to start thinking about the fall!  This might sound funny, but very true when planning your fall harvest.  In regions with a shorter growing season, such as ours in Northeastern Vermont, most all of the fall crops are already in the ground.  In regions where the frost doesn’t hit until later in the fall, like October or November, now is great time to begin sowing your beets, carrots, and cole crops, to name a few.  While these crops can be planted for summer harvest, certain varieties are particularly well suited for fall production and winter storage.

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. (Check out Dave’s Garden First/Last Frost Date Tool). 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.

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.

  • Dry beans, like Black Turtle Beans and Light Red Kidney Beans, while technically not considered a “fall crop”, make for great winter storage.  It is important to get them planted early enough so that they have time to die back on the plant before the first hard frost.
    Organic Winter Squash for Fall harvest

    Organic Honey Nut Butternut Squash

  • Winter squash, like Sweet REBA Acorn Squash and the “tried and true” Butternuts and Hubbards, are another great storage crop with a long growing season.  They lose their storage capacity if damaged by frost in the fall, so will need to be planted as soon as possible.

In many regions of the Northeast, it is already too late to plant these long-season crops like dry beans and winter squash, but check your frost dates and do the math, you may still have time if you start now. 

Broccoli, in contrast, is also intolerant of hard frost, but has a much shorter growing season so time is not as crucial.  It is not a storage crop, but certain varieties are better suited for fall production, such as Fiesta F1, which performs best in the warm days and cool nights of late summer and should be planted 8-10 weeks before your first frost date.

Crops That Do Well In Cool Weather

On the other hand, crops such as cabbage, carrots and beets have good frost tolerance and will hold well in the field in cool fall weather.

  • Carrots: Main season carrots, such as Red Cored Chantenay and Necoras F1, which are excellent keepers, can be planted 6-8 weeks before frost.  Carrots hold particularly well in the field in the cool temperatures of fall, in fact some varieties, like Napoli F1, can be over-wintered in high tunnels or in the field for an early spring harvest if they are mulched in with a thick layer of straw or other appropriate protective cover.
  • Beets: Beet varieties that are appropriate for fall harvest and storage, such as Red Ace and Kestrel, should be planted 6-8 weeks before your first frost.

Other Fall Crop Growing Considerations

While these organic seed varieties are particularly well suited for fall production and have been trialed and selected for their performance in organic conditions, there are still a few other things to keep in mind for fall plantings.  Due to the fact that most of these varieties are planted later in the growing season, long after your pre-season soil amendments have been made, they may need additional fertilization (especially true if this is the second crop planted in the same space).  Also remember that you are planting in the summer, when the days are longer and hotter and moisture from rainfall is generally less than in the spring, therefore greater attention needs to be paid to adequate watering early on.

Much can be said for eating a freshly harvested meal in the dog days of summer, but why stop there.  With a little planning, you can keep producing food through the fall and store many varieties right through the winter to keep you eating homegrown cuisine the whole year through!

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