Starting Planning for an Autumn Harvest
We just picked our first bunch of tomatoes last week, but I’m already thinking our fall vegetable garden. Partly because we’ve hit the nineties and the humidity has me dragging in the afternoons, but also because vegetable gardening in fall is my favorite. It starts with hot days but cooler nights. Then the daytime temperatures begin to drop and the humidity eases up. Next comes the first frost. Finally a hard freeze. Lucky for us, this season is a long one in our part of Georgia. But even in northern climates, the August through October time can be very productive in the vegetable garden, giving a second harvest of home grown flavor.
The beginning of fall is an opportunity to have an extension of summer crops…often with better results. The cooler nights and warm days can rejuvenate tired tomato plants, or you can start new ones from seed or cuttings in mid-summer to replace spent plants. By growing these crops late in the year, it is also possible to avoid insect pests due to the timing of their life cycle. Other summer crops that perform well in early fall include beans, squash, sweet potatoes, peppers, and more. To plan these crops into your fall garden, timing is extremely important. Add about two weeks to the listed “number of days to harvest” for the seeds, then count back that far from your area’s average first frost. This should give enough time for at least a short harvest in an open-air garden. To really extend these crops, consider using row covers or other means of protection from frost.
What I really enjoy, though, is starting a whole new group of vegetables. Greens of all types that I can’t grow in our long hot summers do very well in fall, some will take a hard freeze and still keep going. We love spinach, collard greens, kale, and swiss chard because most years we plant once and harvest all winter. Anything in the brassica group is a good choice for fall. Consider broccoli, broccoli raab, cauliflower, cabbage, and others. Well rooted plants will take a hard freeze or two and keep going, also they provide secondary shoots once the initial head is harvested to extend the harvest per plant. All of the root crops are good choices as well, as long as they have enough time. Carrots, turnips, beets, green onions, and radishes all do well in the fall garden.
Now is the time to plan for a fall vegetable garden. For anyone with a shorter fall garden window, consider starting seeds indoors now (or soon) for all except the root crops. As the current garden is harvested and space opens up, you will have starter plants ready to go.
Here’s what we have lined up for our fall garden:
A variety of tomatoes (started from cuttings off the current season’s crop)
‘Contender’ bush green beans, heavy producer…our favorite variety
‘Gourmet Blend’ beets, includes red, golden and striped varieties
‘Di Cicco’ broccoli, small primary head but lots of secondary side shoots, early producer
‘Tonda di Parigi” carrots, fat round carrots, good for heavy soil
‘White Lisbon‘ bunching onions, reliably quick grower from seed, grows all winter in our area
‘Cherry Belle’ radishes, quick producer of smallish red radishes
‘Lavewa’ spinach, good tolerance of heat and humidity for early fall
‘Monstrueux de Viroflay’ spinach, gigantic variety for later fall and early winter
‘Ruby Red Rhubarb’ swiss chard, good flavor grows all winter here
‘Purple Top White Globe’ turnips, classic american turnip, good for roots and greens
‘Georgia’ collards, good consistent variety
‘Lacinato Nero Toscana’ kale, dark green lance shaped leaves, great for stews
‘Redbor’ kale, ruffled red leaves, good for salads young or cooking when mature
‘Brightest Brilliant Rainbow’ quinoa, never tried growing this before…we’ll let you know.