Springtime is the traditional time to plant a vegetable garden. The warm days make growing a vegetable garden a spring tradition for anyone who grows edible plants.
But late summer and early fall is the perfect time to plant seeds for another wave of tasty veggies in September, October, and beyond.
If you don’t have seeds leftover from your spring planting, don’t worry. Many garden catalogs and local garden centers have late-summer discounts on seeds.
Why grow a fall food garden?
Autumn can easily be the most productive time to plant seeds in the garden.
Consider these benefits:
Warm late-summer temperatures mean fast germination and early growth
Late summer harvests leave more garden space to grow more food
Cool season crops, such as beets, lettuce and spinach, can produce a second crop in the fall when seeds are sow after the heat of summer
Common bugs and diseases from spring may not be as active in early fall
Cooler temperatures and less sunlight mean leafy greens taste sweeter and are less likely to bolt (flower)
Some crops, like carrots and salad greens, actually taste sweeter after a light autumn frost
With straw and row covers, you can harvest cold season crops well into November or later
These veggies will perform well in the cooler days of autumn:
Beets are a great choice for a fall vegetable garden. This cool-season veggie thrives in the garden as summer heat subsides. Beets are a root vegetable that can survive frost, so they lend themselves nicely to a late-season garden. Most varieties of beets are ready for harvest 60 days (or less) from sowing seeds.
Detroit Dark Red Beet is a dependable variety that was introduced way back in 1892. The mid-sized beets are about three inches in diameter and they are tender and sweet. Also fun to grow is a Rainbow Mix of five different beets including Boldor (a golden beet with bright yellow-gold flesh), Chioggia (an Italian heirloom with bright pinkish-fuchsia skin and concentric rings of white and magenta inside), and Albina Vereduna (a pure white variety that has the same delicious flavor as its red cousins). Seeds are available from www.ParkSeed.com.
Kohlrabi is a great vegetable to grow in the fall in northern climates and in the winter in southern climates. This relative of cabbage and kale has a taste similar to turnips (which are also an excellent fall-season veggie). The edible bulb-like stem grows above the ground.
Kohlrabi stems can be eaten fresh like a piece of fruit. The bulbs can also be shredded for salads or cooked with a sauce as a tasty side dish. Konan Hybrid is a 2016 All-American Selection winner that produces crunchy, lunar pale-green bulbs. The 18-inch-tall plants are robust and insect resistant. Another great variety is Purple Vienna Organic. Eat the green leaves like kale and the white-fleshed bulbs like broccoli. Seeds are available from www.Burpee.com.
Broccoli is one the few flowering plants that performs well in autumn. This cool season veggie is best planted in late summer to give it a good head start, so it will produce beautifully as the weather cools. Even in USDA Zone 6, broccoli can continue to produce into early December.
A popular variety is called Green Magic Hybrid, which is known for its productive nature and smooth, buttery flavor. Green Magic sets smooth, nicely domed heads with mid-size beads that are very tightly packed.
For something a little different, Aspabroc is a fun variety. Introduced about 20 years ago, Aspabroc is a cross of two types of broccoli: Italian Sprouting and Chinese Kale (also known as Gai Lan), a leafy, thick-stemmed type with delicious flavor. Aspabroc takes its name from the asparagus-like look and texture of its slender stems, but this is 100% broccoli, with a peppery-sweet flavor. The key to harvesting Aspabroc is to cut the plant’s central crown as soon as it forms—this leads to great side-shoot production, which will produce tasty crowns and stems for weeks.
Spinach is a garden favorite pretty much everywhere. It’s a true cool season crop, so spring-planted spinach has an annoying tendency to bolt (a.k.a. flower) as soon as the weather warms up.
Like lettuce, spinach is grown for its leaves, so you don’t have to wait for flowering and fruiting. Plus, the leaves can be harvested leaf by leaf, so the plants keep producing them.
Bloomsdale Organic Hybrid Spinach is a favorite heirloom variety for its rich flavor and pleasing texture. This wonderful plant reaches 10-12 inches tall and just 8 inches wide, so it fits almost anywhere in a garden.
Bloomsdale loves to grow in full sun in the fall. Another great spinach choice is Baby Leaf Riverside. This is such a quick-growing plant that the baby leaves can be harvested in just 27 days! The smooth, dark green, spade-shaped leaves are delicious in salads and stir-fry dishes. Seeds are available at www.ParkSeed.com.
Peas love cool weather, and short-season varieties are a great choice for the fall vegetable garden. As with other legumes, peas fix nitrogen in the soil, thereby improving it.
Traditional garden peas grow inside the green pods. The peas are sweet and delicious, but the pods are discarded. Snap peas produce pods that are edible, so there’s no need to remove the peas from the pods. Green Arrow Shelling Pea is a productive heirloom garden pea that cranks out lots of long pods filled with 8-11 tasty peas. ‘Sugar Daddy’ is a snap pea variety with stringless pods, shorter vines (just 30 inches tall) and improved disease resistance.
Buy seeds of these varieties and other peas at