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Sometimes, by the end of summer, we are simply ready to say bye-bye to the garden.
It was hard work all spring and summer long, and especially if you worked hard in the kitchen preserving all of your amazing harvest you are probably exhausted and ready for a break.
It happens to me every year…
But by now, I know myself… I usually enjoy a month of slowing down and cleaning up some of the mess but then in September I get frustrated that I don’t have anything growing in the garden which means I’ll plant some seeds and try to force them to grow quickly only to see the little plants freeze to death when the first frost arrives.
Or sometimes I’ll decide that I’m going to protect them and start building all kinds of structures and tunnels over the vegetables and it will become this huge project that I didn’t plan and wasn’t supposed to do because there are other priorities…
You can see that I’ve been there before.
So if you are like me, I want to encourage you to give one last big push and despite the need for rest plant your fall garden!
In this post we’ll go over 25 vegetables you can grow in your fall garden.
Benefits of the Fall Garden
Here in the south (I’m in zone 7b), we can plant a spring garden, a summer garden, and a fall garden. Our growing season is very long; from late February and all the way to the middle of November when the first frost arrives.
Fall gardening is really so much easier than gardening during the summer or even the spring.
The hardest part about the fall garden is planting it because, like I said above, you are usually tired from taking care of the spring and summer garden.
But once the plants and seeds are in the ground, there is really not that much to do besides watching the plants grow and occasionally caring for them.
There are almost no bugs. It seems like they got their tummy full from the summer garden and are on their way to somewhere else. But they don’t really visit the fall garden.
The weeds slow waaaay down in the cool weather and if you have your garden covered with mulch you really don’t need to weed that much.
Watering is easy too. The cool weather helps keep the soil moist for a longer period and again if you have mulch on the ground than there is really not much watering to do.
The main work in the fall garden is starting seeds indoors if you do that yourself, planting seeds and transplants, and harvesting.
When to Plant the Fall Garden
This, of course, will vary depending on your location. Here in the south, we have to have most plants or seeds in the ground by the middle of August.
Many of the vegetables we can grow in the fall like lettuce, kale, chard and so on, are better started indoors. In other words, in the middle of August, we better be planting starts in the garden instead of seeds and sometimes we are better leaving those tiny plants indoors a little longer until the weather cools down a bit.
Generally, you want to plant your fall garden when temperatures cooled down to lower 80s upper 70s.
Here is the problem we run into here in the south…
Let’s take broccoli for example. It takes broccoli around three months to reach maturity. Here in NC, our first frost is usually around the middle of November so that means we need to start broccoli around the middle of July.
I know what you think… The middle of July to the middle of November is actually four months… Aren’t we supposed to start it in the middle of August?
I thought the same thing but in reality, you can’t count on the plant doing any kind of growing in November at all because the temperature is too low. Most plants slow down almost completely at the end of October. This means that you want to have your vegetables ready for harvest at the beginning of November. Since the weather is cold at that point, they can stay in the ground for a few weeks if you don’t want to pick them right away.
But broccoli and all the other vegetables we can grow in the fall (we will go over those in a minute) are cool weather vegetables.
If you plant the seeds in July when the soil temperature is high, the seeds won’t germinate. By the time the soil cools down and the seeds germinate it’s too late, the plant will not reach maturity by November.
So to solve this problem we need to start the plants indoors in a place where we can control the temperature. We should start around the middle of July and keep them indoors in a cool room (Around 70F) and under lights until the conditions outside allow us to plant.
To learn More about indoor seed starting check out The Ultimate Guide to Indoor Seed Starting.
This also gives you a bit of room to play around the weather. If there is a wave of heat around the middle of August, you can keep the plants indoors and wait it out. They’ll keep growing in their pots whereas if they were outside they would have probably be damaged by the heat.
I have a small room that I call The Germination Room where I can start plants, but July was just too crazy and I couldn’t get to it so I went shopping at the local plant nursery and bought a few plants.
If you can’t start your own seeds indoors in time, I recommend buying seedlings rather than planting seeds.
This doesn’t work with all fall vegetables, though…
For example, carrot seeds should be planted right in the garden. Peas also should be planted right in the garden (although you might be able to start them indoors in toilet paper rolls and then transplant). With those kinds of seeds we plant anyway and then all we have to do is hope that the weather cooperates.
25 Vegetables You Can Grow in Your Fall Garden
There is a lot to grow in the fall garden
- Brussels Sprouts
- Some varieties of pumpkin
- Green Onion
- Lettuce Mix
From 1 to 9 is the group of vegetables that should be started indoors. Most of those plants should be started around the middle of July in trays under lights and transplanted somewhere around the middle or end of August to the garden.
If you are in a cooler climate those dates will change. Think about it like this… You want to start the plants indoors preferably 5 weeks before there is a break in the heat of the summer.
In other words, you want your plants to be ready for transplanting when air temperature goes down to the lower 80s upper 70s.
From 10 to 25 is the group that prefers to not be transplanted. You will need to plant those seeds in the garden at the end of summer for a fall harvest.
Note that if you wanted, you could start collards, spinach, arugula, mustard, cilantro, and parsley indoors.
Cleaning Up The Summer Garden
The farmer’s market around here is pretty much done at the end of August so the fall garden is mainly for us to enjoy.
If you don’t have a designated space for the fall garden, you might still have some tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and beans in the garden where you are now supposed to plant fall vegetables…
The beans will still produce during the fall so they can stay. Clean up any plants that are done producing and if you feel like some plants are not done yet you can plant the fall vegetables between them and clean them in a couple of weeks.
You can but don’t have to spread a new layer of straw mulch and add some compost.
So now that everything is ready, let’s plant the fall garden…
A Word About Garlic And Shallots
If you want to grow garlic and onions in your garden, make sure to remember to leave space for them when you plant your fall garden.
Both onions and garlic need to be planted later in the fall (in October) for next year’s harvest.
A Word About Fall Cover Crops
If you feel like planting a fall garden is too much for you, that’s fine! But there is still a lot you can do in order to improve your garden’s soil during the winter so it’s rich for your spring planting.
One thing you can do is plant cover crops. Those are crops like winter rye grass and such that would keep your soil covered and add nutrients and improve your soil structure.
Check out my post Learn How Cover Crops and Green Maure Crops Will Change Your Garden for more information.
A Word About Leaf Mulch
Leaves are going to start falling all around us soon and they are an amazing free resource for the homesteader!
Simply collect fall leaves and pile them in your garden. You can also make leaf compost in a pile or leaf mold.
Check out Everything Your Ever Wanted to Know About Leaf Mold, Mulch, and Compost.
A Word About Season Extention Methods
There are a few ways to preserve what you have grown in the fall even during the winter right in your garden.
Methods like hoop houses and cold frames or just piling up straw on your plants can all be used to keep your garden going through the winter.
I used to implement those methods but I no longer do that. I simply need the rest.
So I plan my garden to be put to bed around Thanksgiving. This is when I’ll harvest everything that is left, add compost (in my case cow’s manure), cover the garden with a thick layer of mulch and let it rest until the spring.
If you do want to learn more about season extension, Elliott Coleman has a great book called The Winter Harvest Handbook.
If you’d like to learn more about the fall garden, my friend Rachel at Grow a Good Life has a great post titled 13 Quick Growing Vegetables For Your Fall Garden.
I can’t believe we will be transitioning to fall soon. It seems like the year just started a short minute ago. Soon it will be time to change gears and slow down a bit, but you know, there is still so much to do in the fall and winter.
Cold season is hunting season and building season around here and there are many projects to complete. But for an additional short couple of weeks, we will be concentrating on the garden so there is plenty of good food to harvest and eat all the way to Thanksgiving.
Are you planting a fall garden this year?