Growing a fall vegetable garden can produce a bountiful harvest of vegetables. The season for fall vegetable gardens begins when temperatures have reached their peak and have begun to fall, which could be as early as August 5th for cities in northern Michigan or as late as September 17th for Miami, FL. In most cities, however, there is ample time for many cool weather vegetables to grow, including broccoli, cauliflower, gourmet greens, spinach, lettuce, carrots, shallots, and turnips. Growers in cities with temperate climates can even grow a late harvest of cucumbers, parsnips, peas, and rutabagas.
There is a trick to successful fall gardens, however:
- Select varieties with a shorter growth cycle – given two varieties, it’s generally best to choose the variety with the shorter days to maturity. This increases your chances the plant will mature and produce a harvest before extreme temperatures set in.
- Be willing to plant seeds indoors – the season for fall gardens begins when peak temperatures have been reached and the thermostat begins the trek downward. Temperatures may still be too warm at this stage to support the germination temperatures requirements of the plant. Planting seeds indoors and then transplanting to the garden may increase the number of varieties available for your fall garden.
- Know whether the plant is sensitive to frost. Plants with a low tolerance to frost generally should be avoided if your region is prone to frost.
- Consider the growth period temperature requirements of the plant – ensure sufficient days remain with suitable temperatures. Otherwise, the plant will not thrive.
- Check the expected temperatures at the time of harvest. Are they still within the range that the plant will tolerate? If not, it may not be worth planting the variety due to the risk of unsuccessful harvest.
- Don’t forget about succession plantings! Calculate the last date you can plant seeds for each variety, and plant a few each week to ensure you harvest as long as possible into the fall.
Calculating temperature requirements and date ranges can be tedious and time-consuming. For those who do not enjoy this kind of work, consider using a garden planner application which performs the calculations and identifies suitable varieties for your garden plan.
When building your garden, consider dedicating a garden bed or two for fall gardens. This way, your fall vegetable garden won’t compete for space in your summer garden beds, which are likely to remain full well into fall due to succession plantings of your summer vegetable crop. During the period your fall garden bed is unplanted in the spring and early summer, plant legume cover crops such as Bell Beans to build biomass and add nitrogen to your soil. Your fall garden will reward you for this, producing robust, healthy, and nutrient-rich vegetables.