Use these tips for a successful fall vegetable garden - a second crop of spring vegetables to harvest in the fall by sowing seeds June through August.
Welcome to the final installment of the Vegetable Gardening 101 series, all about fall gardening!
Did you know that the time to plant a fall vegetable garden is in the summer months? And by "fall garden," I'm really talking about a second, or succession crop, of spring vegetables that you can grow for a fall harvest (versus the spring-sown vegetables that continue to produce into the fall like tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, etc.). I've found that you really need to think about it and plan, though, because we gardeners get so caught up in maintaining and harvesting our spring and summer produce that the window of planting for fall can slip by.
Why would you even think about a second harvest of spring vegetables? Well, wouldn't it be nice to have lettuce or spinach to go with all those tomatoes that ripen in September and October? Or to have an almost continuous supply of carrots and beets? And snow peas in the fall are just wonderful to add to stir-fries along with zucchini and peppers.
Harvests like these are possible not only in climates like mine in Western Oregon, a hardiness zone 8, but in zones 5 through 11 since their last frost dates are all after October 15th. And even zones 3 & 4 can plan for some quick-growing lettuce and spinach that will be ready to harvest before September 15th (but of course this can be extended by using season-extending covers, too).
Tips to Plan and Plant a Fall Vegetable Garden
Find Your First Frost Date
Your first step to planning your fall vegetable garden is to determine your first frost date (the time your area receives it's first light frost). Here's an article that will help you find your frost dates - you can also call your local extension office. After you've determined your dates, this Farmers Almanac article about fall gardens includes the downloadable PDF that I show above. It's a great chart that allows you to find your last frost date across the top and then lists the last "plant by" dates below.
Our Western Oregon last frost date is between October 15th and the 31st, depending on the local area (and where you're getting your information!) and with a little planning, we can fill the holes in the garden left by spring vegetables with fall ones and be able to continue harvesting into December!
Note: If you are in the Pacific Northwest, see my Organic Vegetable Garden Checklist for specific times and varieties for fall planting (I've also heard from others that it's helpful in other regions as well in the north with just a few alterations).
Start Some Seeds Indoors
I've never had much luck direct-seeding things like cabbage, kale, and cauliflower at the height of summer - it's warm and hard to keep them wet enough (though I am sharing a few of my tricks to get seeds to sprout that HAVE to be started outdoors like carrots and beets below), so starting seeds indoors is the way to ensure you can control the environment a bit more.
Here's an example list of the seeds that you can start in June/July to transplant out in 4-5 weeks:
- Cabbage: Melissa and Chinese
- Pac Choi: regular and baby
- Broccoli: Packman and Purple Sprouting
- Cauliflower: Cheddar, Graffiti, Early, and Arbon for overwintering (grows through winter to harvest early spring)
- Brussel Sprouts (I like to time these for Thanksgiving - they're actually sweeter after light frosts)
- Kale: Curly
- Lettuce: Romaine and loose leaf
Note: if you're later sowing or planting according to the checklist or other resource you're using, you can look at the "days to maturity" on the seed packets and choose varieties that will mature faster.
Tips to Sow Seeds Outdoors
Out in the garden, you'll need to direct-sow seeds for hard-to-transplant vegetables like carrots, beets, parsnips, and kohlrabi. The carrots pictured above were sown the first week of July. Thinned lightly now, we can still harvest small carrots during a mid-season thinning before harvesting the majority of the roots in October.
Tender little seedlings and hot summer sun don't get along well, so I've developed a couple techniques that work to give them some shade (note: affiliate links included for clarification-if you use them, thank you for supporting this site!):
Use a garden shade cloth or a basic floating row cover attached to wire hoops to give the seedlings a little shade. This helps keep both seed rows and tender seedlings from drying out so fast. It's okay to remove it once they're strong enough. (Pay no attention to the obvious rain in my garden in July as I'm writing about keeping plants moist...I live in Oregon. Sigh).
Here's a raised bed of parsnips, beets, and carrots planted on mid-July. It was so hot (then!) that I had trouble keeping the bed watered well enough for the seeds to sprout (one of the few downfalls of raised beds is that the quick-draining quality that is so beneficial in the spring works against you in the summer...).
The arrows show where the beets and carrots have sprouted (parsnips are notoriously late in sprouting-don't give up on them too early). In order to shade this bed I used some old fence boards:
It's easy to just lay the boards across the 4-ft. wide raised bed and they provide enough shade to keep the soil evenly moist and enable the seeds to sprout. Of course, they also don't allow much sun, so the boards will need to be removed in a few days. It's just another way to use what you may have around to give your seeds more of a fighting chance mid-summer.
Plant & Water
You'll want to plant your transplants according to the steps I outlined here and will need to provide lots of water in the first few weeks of planting to get the them established, but after that they will grow with just your normal garden maintenance. And you will be on your way to enjoying BLTs from your garden tomatoes and lettuce in September and October, not to mention roasting home grown cabbage for Thanksgiving.
I encourage you to try some fall vegetables if your climate allows- the hardest part, really, is remembering to do it!
Note: Our classic vegetable gardening 101 series was published in the first year of the blog – 2009. It’s been republished with updated information and clearer formatting.
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