The Last-Minute Fall Garden

It’s not too late to plant one last garden. Act now, and enjoy harvesting these 14 plants throughout the fall and into early winter.

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Sow your fall garden and savor homegrown flavor all winter!

Photo by iStock/FatCamera

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If your want to ramp up the flavor and nutrient value of your fall meals, consider planting the season’s last garden using quick-growing crops such as greens and radishes. It’s not too late to get plants in the ground for fall and winter harvests, especially if you already have a garden growing — and definitely if you live where winters are mild. In fact, many plants get sweeter in chilly soil, and some hardy plants can be plucked right out of the snow for fresh eating.

If the thought of fresh-picked salads and hearty, nutritious sautéed greens on your autumn table appeals to you, use the information here to sow your fall garden and enjoy homegrown flavor this fall and winter.

A few of the plants listed here can still grow from seed, but for most you will want to use transplants to make the most of the remaining growing season. If you haven’t already started seeds for transplanting, seek out transplants from garden centers. Check well-stocked local stores for sturdy, healthy-looking plants. Make sure to add a scoop of finished compost to planting holes to add nutrients to soil that may be depleted after the summer harvest.

We’ve organized the list below by quickness to harvest. You will want to get the slowest growers (at the bottom of this list) in the ground as soon as possible; you may be able to continue sowing seeds of some of the fastest crops into October or beyond.

Turnips

Ready for harvest in: 5 to 10 weeks

Can survive frost: Yes

Fall planting notes: Harvest when roots are mature, but before they become bitter. A “neck” will begin to form when the root has reached maximum size, and quality will decline as the neck elongates.

Chard

Ready for harvest in: 7 to 8 weeks

Can survive frost: Yes

Fall planting notes: Transplant only one seedling from each cluster to enhance genetic diversity. Harvest sequentially as leaves mature, 1 to 2 outer stalks per plant; be sure to leave at least 5 significant stalks per plant.

Spinach

Ready for harvest in: 6 to 7 weeks

Can survive frost: Yes

Fall planting notes: Transplant seedlings about 6 weeks before first frost. Harvest large leaves just before they become dull, always leaving 5 good leaves per plant.

Kohlrabi

Ready for harvest in: 7 to 8 weeks

Can survive frost: Yes

Fall planting notes: Plant seedlings deep, leaving 1 to 3 leaves above soil. Harvest as soon as leaves begin to become dull/less green and bulbs stop increasing in size.

Radishes

Ready for harvest in: 3 to 9 weeks

Can survive frost: Yes

Fall planting notes: For small (but fast!) radishes, broadcast seed directly in beds, or use chicken wire as a guide to space seeds 1 inch apart. Harvest after a few weeks in the ground and before the bulb becomes too hot and fibrous. You can sow seeds once a week while soil is workable for a continuous harvest.

Cabbage

Ready for harvest in: 7 to 16 weeks, depending on variety

Can survive frost: Yes (Chinese cabbage is less hardy)

Fall planting notes: Plant seedlings deep, leaving 1 to 3 leaves above soil. Harvest at peak size and succulence, before leaves begin to yellow and split, and before plants go to seed.

Kale

Ready for harvest in: 8 to 9 weeks

Can survive frost: Yes

Fall planting notes: Plant seedlings deep, leaving 1 to 3 leaves above soil. Harvest sequentially as leaves mature.

Broccoli

Ready for harvest in: 8 to 9 weeks

Can survive frost: Yes

Fall planting notes: Plant seedlings deep, leaving 1 to 3 leaves above soil. Heads grow fast. Harvest before flowering begins. May produce secondary heads. Harvest edible leaves, too — they are even more nutritious than the buds.

Carrots

Ready for harvest in: 9 to 11 weeks

Can survive frost: Yes

Fall planting notes: Transplant when seedlings have 2 true leaves, a third one coming, and a root not more than 3 inches long; be careful to keep the root straight. Thin out and enjoy delicious baby carrots. Harvest mature roots at maximum diameter while they are still sweet. Excellent-looking green tops often indicate too much nitrogen fertilizer and poor root growth.

Lettuce

Ready for harvest in: 6 to 12 weeks for leaf lettuce; 11 to 13 weeks for head lettuce

Can survive frost: Yes (depending on variety)

Fall planting notes: Keep transplants indoors until soil cools. You can also broadcast seeds in cool soil every two weeks for a continuous harvest. Harvest in early morning for best taste.

Cauliflower

Ready for harvest in: 8 to 12 weeks

Can survive frost: Light frost

Fall planting notes: Plant seedlings deep, leaving 1 to 3 leaves above soil. Cauliflower head often develops in just a few days. Harvest at full size, before it begins to yellow.

Brussels Sprouts

Ready for harvest in: 11 to 13 weeks

Can survive frost: Yes

Fall planting notes: Grows best in very fertile soil. Plant seedlings deep, leaving 1 to 3 leaves above soil. When a node begins to grow a bulge out of the stalk to form a sprout, remove the leaf just below it to optimize growth. Harvest when sprouts are at maximum plumpness, before outer leaves become fibrous and sprouts becomes bitter.

Parsley

Ready for harvest in: 10 to 13 weeks

Can survive frost: Yes

Fall planting notes: Transplant when seedlings are about 3 inches tall. Choose best seedlings (white forking roots, dark green leaves) to transplant. Harvest outer stalks carefully, leaving 3 to 5 large stalks per plant; remove inedible stalks and compost them.

Collards

Ready for harvest in: 12 weeks

Can survive frost: Yes

Fall planting notes: Plant seedlings deep, leaving 1 to 3 leaves above soil. Harvest sequentially as leaves mature, 1 to 2 leaves per plant; be sure to leave at least 5 significant leaves per plant/stem.


How Low Can You Go?

Depending on where you live, you may be able to get a decent vegetable harvest even into late fall. Several plants will grow well into the snowy months, and a good frost sweetens them by forcing the plants to make more frost-protecting sugars.

Can Survive Light Frost
(nighttime temperatures between 28 and 32 degrees):

• Cauliflower
• Chinese cabbage
• Peas

Can Survive Hard Freeze
(nighttime temperatures between 25 and 28 degrees):

• Broccoli
• Brussels sprouts
• Cabbage, regular
• Carrots
• Chard
• Collards
• Kale
• Kohlrabi
• Lettuce (depending on variety)
• Parsley
• Radishes
• Spinach
• Turnips


Harvest Longer

In fall, promote faster growth by packing plants a bit more tightly than you might normally do. You can extend your growing season by adding thick layers of mulch around plants, or by using season-extending techniques such as row covers. When nights get chilly, protect plants by covering them with a cloth or blanket.

Choose the Right Varieties

In addition to choosing the right plants for cold-weather harvests, you can also increase fall harvests by planting specific varieties. Look for varieties marketed as: fast-maturing; short and compact; textured (such as curly kale and Savoy spinach).


Adapted from How to Grow More Vegetables (and fruits, nuts, berries, grains, and other crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land with Less Water Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons.