I have a confession: I failed miserably at growing my own food this year.
A combination of a late start to the season, an unbearably dry summer and a lack of motivation killed my gardening dreams. While it is too late to start over with most fruiting plants, there is a second chance for many varieties I had planned to stock my fridge, freezer and pantry with. The fall garden is my second chance and I have been planting and seeding to get ready for it.
Growing your own vegetables is not an act that is sequestered to the warm summer months. Edibles can be grow in the fall and even winter if you plan ahead. Some varieties even prefer the cool and crisp fall weather to summer’s heat. Greens like spinach and lettuce wilt under the heat of the sun, while the fall garden provides an ideal growing environment. I’ve never had a problem with my kale in the summer, but it holds up equally as well in the winter. Last year, my kale survived until the snow hit and if I actually get things covered this year, it can survive right through the winter.
When choosing varieties, look for hardier ones that can tolerate a little frost. Early varieties are also best for fall as they take less time to mature.
You can even grow certain vegetables right through winter with a little preparation. My dream for this year is to build or obtain a hoop house in which I can grow all through the season. I also plan to make hoop covers for a couple of my raised beds which will allow me to extend my growing season even further. I am hoping to grow enough fall vegetables to keep us fed as well as well as enough extra to make a small profit.
What I’m Growing in my Fall Garden
While they are not my first pick for eating, they are one of my top picks for growing in the off season. The cool weather actually makes these guys sweeter. Carrots can be sown in late summer and will grow through the fall. Apparently a couple frosts will actually make carrots sweeter. I have good luck growing carrots in the summer and am hopeful fall and winter will fare just as well. **Storage tip: Lay carrots between layers of sand in a bucket with a lid.
This dark leafy green is a superstar in my garden. Seriously, it grows like a weed. The seeds I use are actually a winter blend but I have only grown them in spring and summer. Kale does not require much to grow, some good soil and adequate water and you have a harvest. Kale tolerates the cold much better than other varieties and makes a great addition to the fall garden and winter garden.
Again, not my favourite vegetable (although I do love my beet brownies) but another top performer in the cooler weather (too much heat can make them woody). Beets can tolerate some cold, but not too much. It is best to harvest them before the deep freeze comes. I have a bunch of beets already started and will be planting more seeds this week.
This has to be one of my favourite vegetables. I love adding spinach to salads, soups, sauces, pestos, pastas and just about anywhere you can sneak it in. Spinach, like kale, actually prefers cooler weather. It is prone to bolting when temperatures get too high. This leafy green is a superstar in the fall garden.
To be honest, I’m not a huge onion fan. I love the flavour, but I hate the texture (usually I have to mince it up pretty small to enjoy). Green onions, however, are the exception. These tall greens with small white globes pack all of the onion flavour without the layered texture that causes me to gag. Green onions can be grown year round and I plan to plant many in my fall garden.
Buying lettuce from the grocery store in the dead of winter is almost a waste of money. The leaves lack flavour and spoil quickly. Imagine enjoying that same garden-fresh lettuce you enjoy in the summer at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Imagine digging into a salad that boasts real flavour while the ground is covered in a blanket of snow. Lettuce is another one of those vegetables that fares well in the summer, but does much better in the cooler spring and fall weather. Much like spinach, lettuce can bolt if the mercury rises too much making it easier to grow in the cooler months. I plan to fill one of my raised beds with lettuce greens and build a cover for it to keep them growing as the mercury dips. Lettuce is a must-have in the fall garden.
Pretty much any leafy green can be added to your fall garden. They fare tremendously well in the cooler weather and apparently taste even better when they have been touched by the crisp fall air. My chard fared much better in my summer garden this year. Last year it fell victim to the leaf miner, which have left my chard and beet greens alone this year (although instead I have been battling cabbage worms which are making me crazy). Now I just need to figure out how to cook with chard and I will be all set.
These sweet pods are the exception to my hatred of peas. I love tossing them in a stir-fry or even eating them just as they are. My spring peas were a massive failure. One of the 50 or so seeds I planted sprouted so I pulled the lone plant and planted something different. Last year, my snow peas did exceptionally well until we were hit with snow and I hadn’t yet covered them. My snow peas are in the ground and I am anxiously awaiting their arrival.
I almost thought I was going to have a broccoli crop this year until those darn cabbage worms interfered. I was growing a different variety, purple peacock (recommended to me by Linda Crago of Tree and Twig), and it was looking lovely until gaping holes began to appear. When I discovered just how bad the infestation was, I yanked all of the brassicas from my garden and started anew. No broccoli for me. But there may be redemption, broccoli, like most brassicas, is a cool-weather crop. It can be grown in the summer but fall is when broccoli really shines in the garden. I also plan to grow more of the Calabrese broccoli in my fall garden, hoping I have better success in the cooler weather. Last summer this variety went to flower almost as soon as it sprouted a head. The rabbits really enjoyed it, me, not so much.
Mostly grown in the spring, radish can also be grown in the fall. These small globes are quick to mature, with most varieties ready for harvest in 25 to 30 days. Space your plantings so you can have fresh radishes throughout the colder months. Radishes will tolerate cooler temperatures but make sure to harvest these before the frost hits. I am growing three varieties of radish in my fall garden: cherry belle, white icicle and French breakfast. My first planting is already starting to sprout after only a few days.
This summer was my first at attempting to grow cabbage and it was a big, fat failure. Those pesky little cabbage worms ate big holes and laid their teeny little eggs — by the million — all over my once gorgeous greens. I sighed, ripped them out with my other brassicas and decided to try it again another day. Cabbage is another hardy plant that can tolerate cooler temperatures and I am hoping to performs much better in my fall garden.
I have tried to grow arugula for the past two summers with little success. Both years, my plants have been overcome by bugs who eat teeny, tiny little holes into the peppery leaves. Both years I ended up ripping out the plants without really enjoying the harvest. I am hoping that fall will be better to my arugula, because I so love adding this spicy green to a salad or sandwich. Arugula is another one of those plants that requires little input. It kind of grows like a weed just like kale. I can’t wait to harvest this peppery green throughout the colder months.
This aromatic herb, unlike most others, prefers the cool, crisp fall weather. Cilantro is quick to grow and if you are not careful, will reseed itself (to my pleasant surprise I ended up with a few cilantro plants this year that had reseeded from last year). Cilantro is another easy-to-care-for variety that adds a ton of flavour to dishes. Whenever I buy cilantro from the grocery store I end up chucking half of it (by chucking it, I mean feeding it to the rabbits) because it goes bad before I can use it. I can’t wait to spice up my Mexican dishes with fresh cilantro this fall and winter. I fell in love with herb after visiting Costa Rica where it is used in many dishes.
Another herb that can tolerate cooler temperatures. Chives are easy to grow (you really can’t kill these guys, my mom had a plant that moved with her several times and survived and thrived in each new garden) and make a great addition to various dishes.
This is a new one for me. I have never grown nor eaten collards but I was talked into buying a pack of seeds for my fall garden. This member of the brassica family is one of the most cold-hardy vegetables there is — and the variegated variety I am growing is apparently really pretty as well with colourful stems. The green leaves get sweeter with every touch of frost. I planted a couple of rows of these guys in with my carrots, green onions and radish.
Mustard is another new green I am testing out in my fall garden. The leaves are peppery like arugula and are quick to grow. Linda over at Tree and Twig, where I buy all of my seed, tells me mustard is a staple in her winter hoophouses so I am hopeful this will also be a winner in my fall garden.
I always end up trying more new varieties than I planned to whenever I head out to buy seed. Book choy is another new-to-me variety that I am excited about growing in my fall garden. The tender heads are a staple in Asian cuisine and I am looking forward to adding the small heads to soups and stir fries in the cooler months. The variety I am growing, ching chang, is small with a delicate and mild flavour. This green grows best in fall as it is prone to flea beetles during the warmer months.
Greens seem to be the superstars of fall gardens, but there are plenty of root vegetables that tolerate the cooler temperatures as well and turnip is one of them. Turnip is new to me both as a garden variety and as a food. My picky palette has prevented me from ever indulging in this root veg which can be used in many of the same ways as a potato (I can’t wait to try the turnip gratin recipe I found on Pinterest). Turnips are moderate growers, taking about 55 days to reach maturity which is somewhere in between the speedy radishes and slower carrots.
Other vegetables that fare well in cooler temperatures include brussels sprouts, parsnips, corn salad (I was too late to get seed for this one this year but I am planning to grow it next fall, apparently it can be used similarly to spinach and has a nutty flavour) and kohlrabi.
Are you planting a fall garden? What are you planting in it?