Summer just started but believe it or not, it is time to start thinking about fall vegetable gardening. I live in zone 6 with a frost date of October 10. If I have any hope of a fall garden, I have to start some of my seeds in June or July! See why below and start thinking about cooler weather crops.
Why Even Bother With Fall Vegetable Gardening?
In my area our springs are pretty wet and cold. Then boom. Heat hits and everything you planted for Spring bolts. (Bolts means it flowers and there goes your crop.)
Broccoli is notorious for bolting in the late spring. The florets of the plant turn into beautiful yellow flowers. Gorgeous indeed but no one wants to just eat the flowers.
The fall weather is just more conducive to cooler weather plants like cabbage, broccoli, turnips, and radishes.
What Can I Grow in the Fall?
Certain vegetables can withstand temperatures as low as 32 degrees
- Chinese Cabbage
- Bibb Lettuce
- Leaf Lettuce
- Mustard Radishes
- Swiss Chard
- Green Onions
Other vegetables can withstand a few frosts as well.
- Brussels sprouts
Look for “early season” varieties or the fewest days until maturity seeds.
When Should You Start Planting Your Seeds?
I grow from seed since I like to pick and choose which plants I want to grow.
Usually, the garden stores have a very limited selection in the fall since most people just don’t bother with fall gardening.
In the past, I have been able to buy peas, cabbage, lettuce, and broccoli but that is about the extent of their selection. Trying to find organic plants for fall gardening is near impossible.
University of Nebraska created a wonderful calculation to figure out when you should plant. Let’s break out the old excel sheet!
Here is the formula:
+Number of days for growing seeds ( For example, you need 4-6 weeks when sowing broccoli from seed indoors) or Number of days for germination if sown directly in the soil.
Remember certain seeds will not germinate if your soil is too warm. See HERE for maximum germination soil temperature. I use this soil gauge. Note: You can use it for both compost and soil temperatures.
+ Average number of days to harvest (listed on the seed package or alternatively, see HERE for a maturity chart.)
+Fall factor (add 14 days since plant growth slows down in the cooler temperatures and shorter days.)
+Frost Tender factor (add 14 days if plants are frost sensitive such as tomatoes, peppers, etc.)
So for example.
I sow from seed. Cabbage should be sown 4 to 6 weeks before planting. My frost date is October 10. Cabbage can take a light frost but not a hard frost.
Average harvest days is 70 days.
+14 days for Fall factor.
According to my math, I would need to plant cabbage by the middle of July. So I would have to start my seedlings in the beginning to the middle of June.
Seriously! I just put my tomatoes in the ground on Memorial Day!
By the way, if math isn’t your thing, Urban Farmer has a handy Fall Vegetable gardening calculator excel sheet to use. You simply download their spread sheet into excel, enable editing and change the frost date on the sheet.
According to their sheet, I should have sown cabbage seeds in the middle of June.
So why does the seed packages say 6 to 8 weeks before spring frost but you only need 4 to 6 weeks for transplanting in the fall? Soil temperatures and weather are very different in the spring and summer.
Hints for Fall Vegetable Gardening:
So if you want to fall garden, here are some hints to get your through the season:
- Be on high pest alert: Pests such as cabbage moths, are ready and waiting to eat your new transplants. Unlike planting in the spring, when the pests gradually show up, pests are at their peak just when you plant your transplants. Use row covers to shield them from the pests. (I use summer row covers. They are fragile so treat them with care.)
- Add new compost to your garden beds since their nutrients have been depleted by the previous harvest.
- Make sure your new fall plants will receive at least 6 to 8 hours of light during the fall. By the time fall rolls around, the sun shifts. One of my garden plots no longer receives any sun.
- Also make sure you have access to water. Your plants will still need it. So, make sure your outdoor faucet is frost proof.
- Root crops can be left in the ground after a hard freeze. Make sure you mulch heavily so that the ground doesn’t freeze. Otherwise, you won’t be able to harvest your plants.
- Remember, opt for early season variety seeds for fall sowing.
- Once your seeds germinate, you can take them outside in the shade. Just make sure it isn’t too hot outside and the pests aren’t waiting for your seedlings. I killed seedlings that are meant for cold weather even in the shade when it was too hot outside.
Ready to Fall Vegetable Garden?
Dreaming of swimming in broccoli and cabbage for the fall? Me too. As I mentioned above, I grow from seed indoors. I can’t stand paying $4 a plant. Plus, the garden stores have such little variety.
If you want to learn how to grow from seed, then be sure to sign up for my free video training of what I use to grow seeds inside. Sign up HERE.
Join the Conversation:
Are you getting ready for fall gardening?